Ali Wood is a subtle but powerful force within the UK playwork scene, on par with magnets or the tides. In a field worryingly packed with macho posturing, she reminds everyone again and again to reflect, to listen with compassion, to think radically about what it means to be ‘on the child’s side’. As people in the field, and as Pop-Up Adventure Play, we are proud to call her both an inspiration, and a friend! We’re really excited that Ali will be joining us as one of two keynotes at the Playwork Campference 2019.
Pop-Up Adventure Play: How did you get into playwork?
Ali Wood: I left school determined to not go to university because everyone else was and both my school and my mum were pressurising me to go. Working at Birmingham Children’s Hospital convinced me that I wanted to work with people. I started doing voluntary work in youth clubs, art projects and community centres locally to gain experience, then to Birmingham University to do what was then a certificate in youth and community work. It wasn’t until the early 90’s when I met other ‘proper’ playworkers and realised that this was what I had been doing (of sorts) for a long time. I was hooked. Youth work was changing and getting more structured and funding for community work was dying; playwork felt like my spiritual home and the field where it felt work was still human and anything was possible.
I’ve been in playwork ever since – campaigning for children’s rights, arguing for children’s freedom and independence with anyone who would listen, pushing for reflective practice, writing stories and anecdotes along the way, doing action research and working mainly in schools or adventure playgrounds.
PUAP: What do you love about it most?
AW: I love playwork because it is both incredibly simple and hugely complex; because it draws in a wide range of adults who can be both wonderful and challenging; because it never stops making me think or prompting new questions. It’s also helped me make sense of my own childhood and why I felt most alive when I was playing. But mostly I love it because it treats children and young people as equal human beings who are capable and competent in themselves. It advocates for play and I feel privileged to be part of the movement.
PUAP: How do you play, for yourself?
AW: My own playing is a little tamer physically and less wild than it used to be, but I still love roaming and exploring new places on foot –especially if it involves hills and sea – and make a point of going each year to places I’ve never been. I am passionate about animals and their welfare and so seeing them in the wild is really exciting. I’ve recently taken up knitting and am very proud of my finished pieces of handiwork! I can get obsessed with word and/or number puzzles.
I’m at the adventure playground a lot and love being a part of its general chaos and laughter. And I love spending time with my grandchildren and trying to see the world through their eyes…
PUAP: What are you most excited about for Campference?
AW: Meeting and listening to new people who are equally hungry to learn! Being part of an experience where everyone is going to be enriched and fed and inspiring and inspired – that’s the best!
You can hang out with Ali at the second ever Playwork Campference that will be taking place in Houston TX in February 2019. Register here, or if you have any questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.