Two thirds of London’s adventure playground organisations report that they are now delivering new services, with many becoming vital hubs for food distribution.
Adventure playground organisations have been quietly supporting children and families in some of the capital’s most disadvantaged communities for decades. So it is no surprise that our recent survey confirms they have adapted quickly to respond to the huge additional challenges these same families now face in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Adventure playgrounds may have closed their gates to children in person, but two months into lockdown, it is clear that they are not resting on their laurels. Two thirds of the adventure playground organisations which responded to London Play’s recent survey report that they are now delivering new services, with many becoming vital hubs for food distribution. Others are moving their play offer online and some are delivering emergency play packs to their most vulnerable families.
As demand for food banks soar, the team at Max Roach Adventure Playground in Lambeth is delivering ‘happy lunches’ and play packs by bicycle to their most vulnerable users. Nearby Grove Adventure Playground is also using two wheels to deliver food parcels while Haringey’s Somerford Grove has seen a big increase in demand for the fresh surplus food it is distributing from the Felix Project .
Other adventure playgrounds have adapted their play services – with some, in particular those catering specifically for children with special needs, opening on a very limited (often family by family) basis over recent weeks. These include Haringey’s Markfield, Haywards in Islington, The Ark in Newham and Kids Adventure Playground in Hackney and all have put in place rigorous cleaning regimes and updated risk assessments.
For playgrounds whose gates remain closed, ingenuity in developing online play ideas and resources is much in evidence. In Islington, Awesome CIC has set up the ‘Adventurers Hangout’ featuring a treasure trove of films with playful ideas. From Lambeth, the Triangle Play Zone offers children a weekly timetable with Zoom and Houseparty play and games sessions, nature club activities and videos, fitness and boxing sessions. Weekly challenge videos are a highlight, including Toilet roll kick ups and paper plane flying. And who could fail to raise a smile with Redbridge’s ELHAP Monday morning disco this week?
But as one survey respondent pointed out, these online initiatives “do not replace play,” and adventure playground teams, concerned about children being stuck inside for so long, are keen to welcome them back in person as soon as possible. There are big questions about how social distancing will be implemented when playgrounds are able to open again and whether such limitations on play will in fact be counterproductive to children’s wellbeing. Triangle trustee Anne-Marie Martin said: “Clearly attendance will be limited, and it is hard to reconcile the ethos of adventure play with social distancing, but I am sure we will find a way.”
In the meantime, although 80 per cent of playground organisations have had to furlough workers, a majority of those still working are using the time away from running physical face to face sessions to ensure that they are in a strong position when they are able to resume; writing funding proposals and carrying out essential maintenance on their playgrounds.
Says Harriet Simmons, manager of the Adventure Play Hub: “Our playground has had some much needed TLC and we’ve been working with volunteers on re-decorating and other repairs. We’ve attended funding opportunities and support/advice cluster meetings via Zoom which has been very useful.”