Tag Archives: politics

A week in the life of a Playworker/Maker: Tuesday

29 Feb

Tuesday morning I was up bright and early for the very indirect commute from Tower Hamlets to Walthamstow where the Playbus hosts a morning play session funded by the local children’s centre.

The parents and careers at this session are always there waiting for the bus, their children literally jumping up and down in excitment. This week was very busy with 15 under 5’s along to play. I was talking to one parent who lives the other side of Walthamstow where we used to have another session funded by another children’s centre. We haven’t got the funding to carry on there and as we finished up our work  they were under going some staffing cuts and reshuffles that really affected their brilliant outreach and family support workers. Walthamstow, they told me, has seen a massive number of centre closures and cuts.

No front line cuts they keep saying. Every now and then they blab on about bridging the opportunity gap between the rich and poor. As if. East London has a desperate shortage of nursary places and its the kids from the more deprived areas who always miss out, their parents not being able to afford private care. Children’s centres have done a fantastic job of giving all children access to play sessions where they can explore and socialise with other children and where parents can meet each other, support each other and access all kinds of other services that they might well have missed out on otherwise (speach and language advice, legal advice, language classes). The playbus is used by the children’s centres to reach families who are less likely to go to the centres or access any services, as we can park right on their street and are an easy first place to come. For these kids to have a good start they need the space and opportunity to play. This government aren’t just taking these opportunities away in a short term sense, they are undoing the infrastructure that was only just beginning to make a difference.

Tuesdays session was lots of fun. We blew up baloons and all the kids loved chasing them around. Kids who, at the start of the session were very shy and clingy to their parents, were running around independently by the end. As the bus drives off there’s always a few tears but we will be back next week.

After packing away from the busy session, I had some time to kill. On Tuesdays I work on the bus in the morning and then at an adventure playground after school. A big gap but not big enough to go home and come out again. Thats what comes of working several jobs where each are just a few hours at a time. I went for lunch and tried to come up with some fundraising plans for the playbus. I’ve got a few ideas. Then, as the weather was so warm I headed to the park. Absolutly beautiful scattered with spring flowers and ducks.

Come 3.15pm I arrived at the playground which is especially for children and young people with disabilities and special needs. I’ve not been working there long and am still getting to know the other staff and the children. minibuses bring the children straight from their schools or their homes to the playground. Each member of staff is designated to work 1:1 with one of the children, so once you arrive and help get the place set up, it’s a waiting game for when your 1:1 arrives. The last few times my 1:1 hasn’t arrived and so I am on general duties. This has proved a great way to get to know the other staff. For example, if there is a young person who is known to take all of their clothes off, then I’m able to support the member of staff working 1:1 with that young person to help get them sorted and back out playing. I also relieve people if they need a break. Yesterday, when I relieved one member of staff I was launched into some wonderful imaginative outdoor play. The young person and I layed back on the grass and gazed at the sky which was slowly turning pink. There were tigers hiding out there, bees in the ground and spiders everywhere! (of the imaginary type). Later I joined in with the musical genious who was enjoying playing the keyboard at maximum volume, holding one key at a time. His eyes were closed and he rocked his head just like all the old blues greats. With his other hand he grabed a brightly coloured underella and moved it hypnotically to the durge, breaking into a big smile.

Before we knew it it was time to pack up and get on the minibuses to go home. After being an escort on one of the buses, I was finished for the day; back on the bus to Tower Hamlets.

In the evening, we made the most of the mild weather and planned to walk along the river to a pub in Wapping. Off we went. Every few yeards the pathway was blocked with locked gates. The water front here has been well and truely privatised. Where not so long ago where wharehouses and dockers pubs there’s now luxury developments and gated communities all claiming their own private chunk of the public right of way. In a crack between two houses were were lucky enough to discover an accessible bit of beach. The Thames is so beautiful and should be accesible to all.

 Then, as if some ominous threat, floating past on the river goes a boat pulling some giant olympic rings…as if we needed reminding. As if most people’s lives in London, especially east, haven’t been affected in some annoying way or other since they announced we were to host them. The people of East London knew or have quickly come to learn that these games are not for them and actually, if their lives get in the way of the plans to woo the worlds dignitaries it’ll be no contest who will win. All those I’ve spoken to are dreading the summer. Money has a way of ruining everything.


A week in the life of a Playworker/Maker: Monday

27 Feb

Being a Playworker and making stuff for a living is a precarious way to live. I’ve got 3 jobs plus the self-employed making. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m going to give you an insight into my week of job juggling in East London. Who else can say their week is like this…every week!

I spent my Sunday sewing new lined notebooks and taking a short trip on the DLR to Greenwich Observatory Park to do some drawing. I love that park, and what an amazing view of the city.

From up there you can see the whole skyline of the city which is currently littered with cranes as the pre-Olympics building work goes underway. You can’t escape it. Greenwich Park itself is planned to host the Equestrian events with a strong local campaign brewing against the plans.

This morning I kicked off my week with the all too familiar travel from Tower Hamlets to Hackney where I went to the house of the family where I work 1:1 with a young person with Aspergers Syndrome. I’ve worked supporting this young person since June 2010 and we get on brilliantly. Spending time together is most of the time a total pleasure. In the past I’ve worked as much as 20 hours a week with this young person but currently we have a once weekly catch up.

Today our task was to tidy a typical teenage bomb site of a bedroom. While we sorted the clothes I become agony aunt, acting as a sounding board for interactions with peers. This kind of coaching is crucial for a young person with Aspergers for whom implicit social boundaries and rules must be explicitly learned.

After we had cleaned the bedroom until the sense of achievement was strongly felt we were off on the bus to Madame Tussauds! What an exciting and fantastic time we had. There was even chance for some impromptu history lessons prompted by Nelson Mandela, Hitler, Margret Thatcher amongst many many more.

I was happy to have the chance to vent some anger at a man both me and the young person I work with know as the man taking all the money away from communities…

After meeting all the celebrities and international figures there were to meet we then went on an adventure to find this famed new Routemaster bus that Boris keeps banging on about. We went to Tottenham Court Road to catch the 38. After all the hype surprise surprise it is literally just 1 new bus which wasn’t in the area when we were waiting. The ‘Vanity Bus’ some people call it…hmm…whatever could they mean by that?!

And then home I came.

Tomorrow morning bright and early I’m on the Playbus in Walthamstow. Looking forward to telling you all about it.

The child’s place is in the playground

5 Dec

After going to the East London Play Conference a couple of weeks ago, and hearing Bob Hughes, ‘play philosopher’ talk, I decided it was time I got stuck into more play theory. I know that playwork is better and more radical that I currently think it is. I know this because the more playworkers I meet, the more I realise it’s not just the odd one or two who are radical, progressive and anarchist, it’s most of them. And the theory doesn’t disappoint.

This is from the introduction to Playwork; Theory and Practice edited by Fraser Brown (2003)

Today there are playgrounds, kindergartens, uniformed groups and after-school clubs – a plethora of places where children are socialized to the adult concept of play. The unwritten assumption is that play must always be good for children. It is organised and sanitized, both in physical and social terms. It is important here not to lay blame upon, or criticize professionals, who give so much of themselves in the pursuit of fostering children’s play, The critique is not about individual human behaviour, but about the broad-scale hegemony of contemporary society to which play professionals fall victim just as much as parents and children. This is the hegemony of economic rationalism, which demands that humans must be productive; that this requires seriousness and diligence; and that the task of any child is to become a productive adult. The child’s world is constructed around the idea of play being a preparation for the rigours of adult life. Adulthood is perceived as being serious and productive. Regrettably, many branches of the play movement have fallen victim to this industrial hegemony. They see play purely in terms of developmental preparation, and voice rhetoric about the beneficial results of play in the development of children. Children are not encouraged to run because it is joyful and stimulating, but rather so that they will run faster than their peers, and win races against them. Of course, play has substantial developmental benefits, but that is not its one and only purpose.

The industrial revolution and its accompanying urbanisation left us with another important legacy. In spite of the rhetoric about the family, economic efficiency has meant that people are classified in terms of their relevance to the industrial state – so everyone has their place. The child’s place is in the playground, nursery, after-school club, etc. One of the important results of this is that idealized play, in so far as the ideal is allowed to survive, has been located in the world of children. The extent to which the play movement has focused its attention and vision on children is one of its most striking features. By maintaining that play belongs to the realm of children, the movement may have aided the depiction of play as trivial.

Most discussions about children’s play seems to assume it is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated behaviour, undertaken for its own sake… However…even within that framework, there are almost as many definitions as authors, a plethora of explanatory understandings, and a shift in thinking from looking at the extent to which play is good, to asking what is it good for and how might it help children develop into adults. One of the problems resulting from this is that much of what adults do, supposedly in the interests of children, is seriously misguided. In practice it only serves to marginalize play and make its finest realization more difficult to attain. Many well-intentioned play providers, whether they realize it or not, are merely adults taking control of children’s lives – i.e removing the very essence of play from the child’s experience…In supervised play settings, our desire to protect children and keep them safe from harm often mitigates against the child’s freedom to experiment, take risks and experience challenges. The excessive programming of after-school clubs interferes with the spontaneity and personal direction of  that we might expect to be characteristic of any child-centred provision.

Playwork is not a branch of community work. It is not youth work with children. It should not be used as a mechanism to enable social workers to make contact with troublesome families. It has little to do with homework clubs.Nor should it be viewed as a fortunate by-product of the drive to increase the nation’s workforce. At the root of all those approaches is an adult agenda.

Novermber 30th and the fight of our lives

4 Dec

On Novermber 30th I was out on strike as a member of Unison. I have no idea if Unison is the right union for the work I do. In the work I do (other than the printing and book making) I either have no colleagues or they don’t see the point of being in a union because they work for a community charity. The strike was about pensions. I work 3 different jobs, none of which have a contract so none have sick pay…let alone a pension. But I went on strike. Like a lot of other precarious workers.

Why did I go on strike?

I went on strike because it’s precarious work or no work at all, because at some point I hope to be able to rely on being secure in old age and because I’ve really had enough of having no foreseeable security at all. I worked it out the other day. In the last 7 years I’ve worked 15 different jobs and lived in 8 different houses. Things aren’t getting any better. And I know it’s not just me, it’s not even a chunk of us. It’s all of us. It’s everything we hoped for ourselves. Gone.

I went on strike because at least it’s a start, despite the fact that the unions are well behind where they need to be and that their hands are tied by all the laws that broke the unions after the last big disputes. I’m doubtfull of their power and I’m doubtful that they wont just make a deal at some point that falls painfully short…but even then it’d just be a pensions deal…

At the Hackney Town Hall picket and rally I made placades with the kids

And in central london, where a march was held you saw old Red Ken speaking at the trade union rally at Embankment while at the same time hundreds of young workers, students and unemployed (people mostly not in unions) gathered at Picadilly Circus to see what the Occupy lot had planed because the mainstream march and rally falls so short, and there were more pockets of young un-unionised protest, college age students having a street party on The Strand, local support for picket lines (including in Hackney where 37 people were arrested while showing support) for example.

Occupy protesters on hang a banner from the roof of Panton House, offices of the highest paid CEO in the FTSE 100

And after one day of strike action the response from Cameron is pure and outright class war as if he thinks it’s all a big game. I’m sure that is how it feels to him. I doubt he’s ever even known someone who knows someone who struggled to get by or who uses the NHS.

I’ve heard teachers talking about possible plans for further strike action, not just a day here and there but I’m hearing weekly and then increasing from there- and thats still just on the issue of pensions. We’ve got the fight of our lives on our hands we really have. And we are going to have less and less to loose as those things that we hoped for for ourselves, our friends, family and community are stripped away and in their place we are left with…unpaid labour and nowhere to live. The kids involved in the summer riots knew it.

We need to get angry because they are coming to take our futures. And this was always going to happen. We’re only worth anything while we are making someone else some money. Now they don’t want us they act like we are robbing them. Thats the way this shitty system works. Thats the way it’ll always work, no matter how much we fiddle with the edges.

It’s now or never…

Sometimes life gets in the way of printing

23 Oct

What a crazy few months it’s been.

Personally I have helped support the young person with Aspergers Syndrome that I work 1-2-1 with to start settling into a new school. It’s a real challenge for people with very complex needs to be understood and included in mainstream settings. Staff in schools are all working at capacity and taking the time out to get to grips with a particular young persons needs too often falls to the bottom of the priorities. In the mean time, a fantastic young person it made to feel like they are the one failing. There’s lots to be done. I hope that soon the school will get to grips with her needs and she will flourish there.

I’ve been working on the Hackney Playbus. We’ve been thinking of ways to loby to try to secure funding for spring. We are currently commissioned by Sure Start Children’s Centres and no matter what you have heard about Hackney’s Children’s Centres not being hit by cuts, they certainly are on a much tighter budget. To find out more about Hackney Playbus check out their website  and if you know anyone you might like to support us please pass it on.

I’ve also moved house but still based in Hackney. They say it’s one of the most stressful things you can do and they really aren’t exagerating. Especially when London is facing a massive housing crisis. There just isn’t anywhere coming up for rent and the places that are around seem to be about £100 more expensive a month than they were a year ago. So I find myself in an unusually precarious housing position at the moment, which has led to there being less printing. I’m hoping to get back to it asap.

Things are getting tough and people are fighting back. The Ocupy movement is springing up all over the world, and London has it’s very own occupations at St Pauls and now Finsbury Square. I went to St Pauls the day it started but haven’t been back. What do people make of it?

And we’ve witnessed a serious fight over the eviction of Dale Farm traveller’s site in Essex. I was lucky enough to hear some of the residents speak about what happened at a meeting yesterday. They are going to carry on fighting and the supporters are going to be setting up a Travellers’ Solidarity Network. I hope to get involved. I’ll post more news as I find out more.

The days are getting shorter but the weather is still beautifully mild. It’s been a beautiful Autumn that almost let me believe that it was still summer. With Autumn comes new beginnings. Not so far for me at them moment but I’m seeking them out.

Well, just a quick message to restart the regular posting. Hope everyone is well.

Occupy Me!

2 Oct

Click on the pic to go have a look

Fool’s Print featured in Occupy Me collection on Etsy inspired by Occupy Wall Street.

Hats off to Anarchist Media Project

31 Aug

Check out the Anarchist Media Project blog for many more spot on, outstanding posters