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7 Mar

Welcome to the Fools Prints website.

As well as making arts and crafts, I am also a Playworker on a busy London adventure playground. My art and craft making comes in waves depending on how busy I am at work. I am currently very busy so not able take take on any projects at the moment. I would still love to hear what you think about what I have made.

Thanks for stopping by.

Sarah The Fool


Suffragettes book sold in 1 day!

12 Nov


Reflections from Playwork Study Tour in Ireland

15 Jul

Recently I went on a Playwork Study Tour to Ireland thanks to Ip-D!p. During the trip I kept a reflective diary. The trip was a fantastic insight into Play in other countries and despite the small geographical distance between England and Ireland, there was a lot to reflect on.

Having a History of Childcare

Despite being geographically so close, Ireland has a very different attitude towards childcare. Being a Catholic country, Ireland is much more traditional in it’s values than England. There is a much greater expectation that mothers will stay at home to look after their children, or that this work will be done within the extended family. Consequently, there is no where near the level of childcare provision enjoyed by families in England.

One of our visits was to Little Acorns Children’s Centre in Galway, run by Michelle Shelvin. The centre offers day care, pre-school and an after school club. The centre, set in Galway’s famously beautiful countryside, uses minibuses to drive in children from several different schools for after-school activities. It is one of few centres of this kind.Image

Michelle was a wonderful host and after showing us around the beautiful site, complete with chickens and a geodesic dome which is soon to house giant sand and water play, she took the time out to talk to us about childcare in Ireland. She explained how Article 41.2 of the Irish Constitution (1937) states that;


“…the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved…The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties to the home.”


This means that the Irish equivalent of  Child Benefit is designed to sustain child and mother and that the expectation that women will stay at home is entrenched. As Michelle described it, Ireland does not have a history of childcare and so there are not the same number of options for and access to childcare as there is in England.

Michelle described how this is beginning to change since 2000 when the government brought in The Equal Status Act. Under the act it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of gender, marital status and family status, amongst many other things. This does not just relate to employment but also access to all public and private sector facilities and services. This meant that attention was turned towards childcare, in order to enable women to access facilities, services and employment equally.

This particular centre started out life in 1999 with 6 children based in a local community hall. With the changes in legislation, Little Acorns now looks after 65 children at any one time, catering for 0-13 year olds in a purpose built site which opened in 2009. In 2010 the centre began to offer new statutory free pre-school places as children are now entitled to 15 hours a week for free and subsidised day care for people on income support. Previously, children were starting formal education from 4 years old, due to the lack of childcare provision, but now, with free pre-school places, children are starting school at around 5. Michelle explained that even these first years at school are not play based, so having the extra time in more play focused settings can make a lot of difference.

It was very interesting and valuable to be able to gain this insight into Ireland’s different attitudes towards children and childcare, and gave a bit of context to our other visits and discussions.

Early Years and Playwork

It was interesting to visit a children’s centre on our playwork study tour. For those of the group that work in clear-cut playwork settings, such as the adventure playgrounds, it perhaps gave context to Irelands attitudes to children and childcare, but I gained more from the experience.

It made me reflect more directly on my own work. One of my roles is as a Playworker on a busy, inner city playbus. We exist on that fine line between Early Years and Playwork (although the line can be fine at times, the ethos’ couldn’t be more different) in recent years we have evolved to tune in more with the Early Years agenda in order to get and keep funding. We now work closely with a number of children’s centres and are regularly commissioned as part of their outreach service.

Catering for under 5’s at a ‘stay and play’ type mobile facility also constrains our ability to provide what some theorists would call authentic play or adult free play, since parents/carers remain with their children. At a busy session we could be catering for 50 children with their 45 parents and carers all with their different attitudes and beliefs towards children and play.

It sounds pretty much like early years to me, so where does playwork come in to it, I hear you ask. I guess on the bus it is captured by the attitudes of the staff and the ethos of the setting. I think it was in a Bob Hughes book, although I can’t remember where, that highlighted the underlying permissiveness that gives adventure playgrounds and playworkers their unique feel and that is definitely what we have on the bus.

In the summer, when we take over chunks of parks with the bus and lots of outdoor toys, we sometimes include scrap and loose parts into this. In the past this has led to some fantastic den and structure building, messy painting and imaginative role play.

At Little Acrons Children’s Centre, Michelle talked about how she had bought some tools for the children to make things out of wood but had not got them out yet. She was lacking in confidence to know where to start. After a member of our group shared how she had introduced tools and wood work into her after-school facilities, Michelle said she would give it a go. This made me think that at my setting, we should be thinking of further ways to enable children to experience things that they wouldn’t else where, and to try to bring as much of that spirit of permissiveness as we can whilst still fulfilling the needs of our community of parents. I’ll be reflecting on this further!



No Playworkers Here

Early on in the tour we met up with Debbie Clarke, Play Development Worker at Dublin Council who helped to arrange our visits around Ireland. One of the first things she explained was that there are no Playworkers in Ireland. There are play settings but these are usually connected to Early Years, sports or youth work rather than play in itself.

Debbie explained that the anti-obesity agenda had driven a lot of children’s facilities. 25% of Ireland’s 3 year olds are obese, according to Michelle at Little Acrons where they have a quarter mile running track built into their garden area where exercise sessions are held.

We visited Charlesland’s Shoreline Centre in County Wicklow which highlighted well the way in which sport and play are very inter linked. Domonick and Sue, managers at the centre showed us around.

ImageWithin it’s 20 acre site the Shoreline Centre offers Ireland’s largest skate park, a small playground, health and sports clubs for the whole community (from jogging sessions for women with buggies to OAP sessions), including being home to the local children’s baseball team, an outdoor gym and a number of all weather football and basketball courts. At all the sports clubs, children have the option not to join in and could use the sites other facilities instead. Children’s use of these facilities is either free or at a large discount, meaning they can play sport on an all weather pitch for just 1Euro each. The site is able to raise funds to pay staff from the money adults pay to use the facilities.

The centre looked and felt like a sports centre but Domonick definitely understood the need for children to encounter risk. When developing the facilities at the site, Domonick had some trouble convincing the insurers that the skate park was a risk worth taking. After some discussion the insurers agreed but with a lower age limit of who could use the ramps set at 10 years old. Once the park was opened, he had a similar discussion with local parents too. After their children had their first go on the skate park and fell off, several parents complained of it being ‘a death trap’. Domonick stood up for the importance of children encountering risk and the skate park now has a loyal group of attendees who have becoming skilled in not only using the area safely but also pulling off some pretty impressive stunts successfully. Domonick invited professional skaters to run workshops with the children and young people who use the ramps. He said the first lesson they ran was on the right way to fall. Although Domonick was running a very sports focused centre, he talked like a Playworker about children and risk.

We visited a youth work project that was based in Ballymun’s huge estates. The area is undergoing a massive regeneration plan which has experienced some complications and is not moving as fast as planned. Consequently, this area, which already had a lot of social problems, is currently part new build, part old, part empty, part derelict waiting to be knocked down, part building site. Some of the regeneration money meant that a small community hall has been transformed into a purpose built youth centre called the Reco, run by Bryr Youth Resource and complete with dance studio, music practice room, art room, garden, IT suites and much more. The centre runs clubs for the young people of Ballymun and hosts open Fridays so that young people not signed up to clubs can use the facilities.

Here is a piece of digital art that was being displayed at The Reco:





After looking around the site we met with the centre’s parks team, led by Lindsey. There are 6 parks around Ballymun and the parks team goes to each one once a week after school for 2 hours to facilitate games with the children there during spring and summer. All of thissounds like a playranger service but the Bryr parks team are not following any model, they are responding to the need in their community and are getting their youth workers out into the parks.

We went with the team to the 3 parks they visit on a Tuesday night. The first was Coultry Park, a new, award winning park, part of the newly built section of Ballymun. Around 40 children came out to greet the parks team who wear bright yellow coats to be easily seen. The team facilitated skipping, rounders and traditional playground games like ball dog. They also had some gloves and pads and one member of staff facilitate some kick boxing practice. Again, what was being offered was mostly sports based but the buzz created in the park meant that many more children and teenagers were playing out aside from those joining in the games, either directly on the edges of the facilitated games or a way away.

We moved on to the next park, which wasn’t far away so may of the children followed the yellow coated youth workers there.

We were told the second park was only 3 years old. It clearly had not been maintained at all. There was only a few skeletons of play equipment left in it and littler and broken glass everywhere. Again, the park was full within moments of the youth workers getting there. The children got involved in games straight away. Lindsey explained that this didn’t use to be the case and that over excitement and frustration would stop children from being able to settle to games quickly. I’ve read this in a playwork theory book; That often children who are not practised at playing with others, will find it hard to maintain play frames because they do not yet have the negotiation skills or trust that their turn will come, or that sticking to a games particular rules can mean that game lasts longer and is more enjoyable for everyone. So with initial mediation and guidance from the parks team staff, the children have developed their abilities to negotiate and maintain play frames.

Here we met the other part of Bryr’s outreach work, the Street Workers, headed by Angie Birch. The Street Workers are out on the estate every evening all through the year. They seemed to be a cross between youth and social workers who work with everyone in the community. They are a familiar face and a way to access drug and alcohol support, a way to help people back into the system who have been left behind. They also run a project called Easy Street that works with gangs as gangs to help them work together on positive things. It made me wonder where services like this were where I am based in East London.

The final park we went to was further into the estate which bordered on one side by a construction site, part old housing and partly recently moved in people from another area of Ballymun. The park was small and again run down. Debbie explained that there had been football posts but these had been taken away. The small play park was literally covered in glass. Considering this was the smallest park, there were the most children. They ranged in age from 3 right up to adults if you included those who were watching from the sidelines. Here the excitement and electricity of the children over flowed and children fought over equipment. The kick boxing pads had to be put away as a small fight broke out. There was a lot of pent up energy. A mass game of football got under way attracting most of the boys, while most of the girls skipped on the sidelined. It started to rain. Many of the children were not dressed appropriately for the weather and did not go home for coats.

One member of our group went over to some teenagers sitting around the edge of the park not particularly engaging in the activities and asked them what they thought of the people in yellow coats. They said they liked them and that they would not be out in the park if the youth workers were not there.

These youth workers very much fulfilled the role of what we might call playrangers.


Although there may not be any playworkers in Ireland there are definitely a lot of projects and people that are working in similar ways and reflecting on similar challenges as those of us who call ourselves Playworkers.



Benign Neglect vs. Helicopter Parenting

A recurring theme in our group discussions was this idea of benign neglect especially in comparison to the idea of the helicopter parent. This made up a particularly large part of the discussion after we had visited the Ballymun’s Bryr youth project where lots of the children were not appropriately dressed for the weather and where Debbie had told us about a 2 ½ year old, who out by themselves, had walked onto a closed building site, had an accident and died, raising obvious questions about how a 2 year old was able to wander from home unattended.

As a group all of this got us thinking about how some level of benign neglect can afford children the opportunity to enjoy adult free play, to adventure, explore and range, to encounter risk and challenge and decide for themselves how to manage it and to have more autonomy from their parents. By benign neglect we are not referring to any level of neglect that would cause distress or harm to the children and there are obvious differences between this and a situation where and a 2 ½ year old ranging an estate unsupervised.

On the other hand you have what has come to be known as ‘helicopter parenting’ which many of us in the group had witnessed, where by children are constantly supervised, constantly having decisions made for them and often these children have very little free, unmanaged time to develop their independence, explore their own creativity and imagination or encounter and learn to over come challenges.

This is where playwork stands out from early years and childcare provisions and ethoses, in advocating for and trying to create safe settings where children can encounter risk and challenge and can work things out for themselves but where the focus is not on learning and development, but just on playing right now. Children being able to do what it is that they need to do.



Involving Parents and Carers in Child Centred Spaces

The challenge of everyone working in playwork is to create genuinely children centred spaces. These spaces are often also important parts of their wider local communities, and an important service to parents too. In group discussions we felt that it was an interesting line to tread, knowing how to involve the wider community of parents and others, and how much.

Several people in the group who work on adventure playgroups said that they involve parents and carers as little as possible, with the focus always being on the space being dictated by the children and, in a way, protected by playworkers from interference by adult agendas.

On the playbus we try to create a child centred space but we also engage a lot of parents and carers as a stay and play service. Here, we work hard to make parents and carers feel welcome, because if they don’t, they just wont come back with their children.

This is another discussion that I have taken away with me that I will continue to reflect on.



Assumed Trust in Children’s Skills and Abilities

From the parents we spoke to on the tour, in particular a man named Finbar (a father of 8), it seems there is generally more acceptance that children should and will play out and that they have abilities and skills to look after themselves and also that they will get into scrapes because ‘children will be children’. If often feels like this understanding of children is fading away, especially where I am in East London, not helped by the media. It seems society is absolutely stuck on children and young people being either little angels or little devils. Small children are vulnerable to every risk and must be protected, while those who are slightly older, or who partake in more risky play need to be controlled, tammed and feared. For example, in East London and I’m sure many other parts of the city, there are pretty permanent and large areas where Dispersal Orders are in operation. This means that police can stop, search and send home any young people in groups bigger that 2 who are out in those areas. These areas often not only cover, but target parks and other outdoor community meeting spaces. This constant criminalisation of young people is very disturbing.

So how do we get back to a position of trusting children and young people enough to allow them to encounter risk and to realise that children and young people learn from their mistakes and supporting this process.



National Pride

When we were in Ireland it was the first round of Euro 2012. Ireland played their first 2 games while we were there. All around Dublin and the surrounding area, people had decorated their houses and streets with orange green and white.

All the pubs showed the games. We were in a pub for the first game. A folk band played right up to kick off and stopped for the match. The pub was a real mix of men and women, young and old. It struck me how different an English pub would feel during an England match. Everyone watched intently. Ireland lost. The band started again and people danced. I can’t imagine that happening in an English pub.

And for the second match, Ireland fans famously sang The Fields of Athenry as they lost. People were so jolly. I wanted Ireland to win a match to see what the celebrations would look like!

Ireland’s national pride feels very different to England’s.

We went on an open top tour bus to see the sights and listen to some history. Ireland’s history is one for struggle for freedom. I’ve always been embarrassed by English pride giving nod to the centuries England exploited and abused the people of so many other places. It was nice to be somewhere that the national pride seemed to mean something positive to average people.



Making Social Problems Into Potential Opportunities

The final location we visited is one that we had talked about all week. Debbie had told us at the start of the week about Ireland’s horse culture. There are large horse markets (that now sell other animals too) around Ireland. There are monthly markets in Dublin and Galway. Here the buying and selling of animals is relatively unregulated, consequently welfare doesn’t need to be a priority. Animal welfare organisations attend the markets and rescue a lot of animals. The lack of regulation also means that anyone can buy an animal there and they are alarmingly cheap. For example, a child could go to the market and buy a horse for 20Euros. Debbie explained that this has led to there being a lot of families with horses in their back gardens or loose in the estate. She mentioned that these young people with horses are often described as delinquents.

We went to visit a community stables in Cherry Orchard, which is another large estate on the outskirts of Dublin. Here children and young people’s interest in horses is turned into an opportunity. It started off as an idea for a way for local horses to live in stables instead of ranging the estates. It soon became much more than that.

The stables are currently home to 27 horses, a lot of which have been rescued. We met one horse called Buster who was bought by the stables for 200Euros, narrowly missing being sent for slaughter to become meat.Image

They offer riding lessons, with priority to children who live in the area, for 10Euros an hour, which is a very good rate for horse riding. Currently 200 children and young people a week are attending riding lessons there! They have 40 leader volunteers who have responsibilities for the grooming and mucking out as well as helping in lessons. Leaders can then go on to gain qualifications through their work at the stables.

There are several of these community stable projects dotted around, but I got the impression that a lot more are needed. I was told that in the area around this particular stables, 1 in 3 families will have a horse. There is a demand for it too. When Cherry Orchard were waiting for the council funding to set the project up, they rallied local support and children and young people rode their horses right through the councils’ offices!



Lined notebooks now available online

27 Feb

Lined notebooks now available online. Click on the pics for a closer look.



Fools Day Out at East London Printmakers’ Studio- Part 3 (Book Making)

14 Aug

On Wednesday I was at East London Printmakers’ studio for the last time in this series of workshops. This time I was book making.

I was expecting to sew a few pages and bind them with a soft back…but no. We were treated to a day long tutorial on how to bind proper hard back books. Brilliant.

Here is my first hand made book;

Amazing! I never thought I’d be able to make proper proper books.

Big thanks to tutor Richard Roberts who was a real pleasure to work with. This was his last book binding workshop at ELP so good luck to him for everything he’s doing.

With my newly recieved wages from playwork I’ve just invested in a book binding kit to get cracking on more at home. I’ve sewn the pages for 2 books already. Exciting.

The first t-shirts I designed

1 Mar

Johnny Cash


I was looking through some of my old pictures this week and I came across pictures of t-shirts I made as presents 4 or so years ago.

For a friend's birthday

 Back then, after cutting my stencils out of paper I just used my trusty paint brush to get the colour on.


Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army, Mexico

 After seeing these again, I think I might try screen print some portraits. If you’ve got an idea of someone you’d like to see on a t-shirt let me know.

To get your hands on a Marcos stencil, all ready to print and cut, check out Making Cuts