After reflecting for a couple of day, I am ready to tell you about my adventures at this year’s National Playwork Conference. Hosted by Meynell Games Group, this is the biggest annual playwork focused conference in the UK.

Every year, hundreds of playworkers journey to England’s south coast to attend the conference at Eastbourne, a lovely little seaside town. Last year, we sent Andy to the conference as Morgan and I were in Australia. This year, I was able to represent Pop-Ups in Eastbourne, and was funded generously by Leeds Beckett University where I am doing my Playwork PhD.

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Here is a photo of me playing on the beach at Eastbourne.

My journey down to the south lands started with Playworker Development Course tutor, David who became my travel buddy to the conference. It was a long but playful journey in a minibus filled with students, and when we finally reached the conference we were tired but excited. I haven’t attended this conference since 2013, and with my work mostly outside the of the UK or online, it’s not often that I see other playworkers, so I was a bit nervous. It wasn’t long before Grant Lambie, (one of the US Tour 2014 special guests) tracked me down and thus began a 2 day long river of playwork conversation.

I wasn’t able to attend everything: I don’t think anyone can! But I tried my best to go to a variety of things which kept me engaged, but not enough to make my brain hurt too much. I wanted to keep it my head clear and receptive, and be responsive to other people and reflective about my own experience. I did manage to catch a session with Tony Delahoy about the Playwork Principles, a skype call with Chris Bateman on the Lineages of Play, I hung out with Grant a bit more as he encouraged others to create a tiny model version of an adventure playground before presenting about my PhD to a lovely crowd of 7 people at the end of the last day.

I’m really grateful that they came to my session: the last talk at the end of the first conference day isn’t always a popular time, but all 7 of my folks stayed to the end of my presentation, were engaged and asked some meaningful questions. I was greatly encouraged by their thoughts and they were all so very complimentary about my work.

It is at Eastbourne every year when the Annual Playwork Awards also take place. It is an opportunity for folks in the playwork field to be recognised for their hard work, and though the prize is of no monetary value, it really does feel like you get a big pat on the back from the field to say “you’re doing a great job, keep doing it!”. We were nominated for 2 awards this year – “Playwork Trainer” and “Playwork In Other Contexts”. We didn’t come away with either of the awards (the who organisations who got it really truly deserved their win) but I feel like we at Pop-Up got a win by simply having our names promoted and out there. Being able to come across fellow Pop-Up supporters as I cruised around the conference really put a spring in my step. It was cool to see the name was getting out there and that we were known! When I was last at Eastbourne, nobody had a clue about Pop-Up Adventure Play. This time, it felt a little bit like being greeted at the conference with a hug.

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The Playwork Awards took place at a venue at the end of the pier in this photo! Such a beautiful setting!

The second day started a little slower but with just as much passion as the first. I joined a session detailing the newly established Playwork Foundation (more on that another day) before preparing myself for my second presentation – “Popping Up in the Community”. Eight people came to my session despite the sideways rain that appeared out of no where and I was able to tell folks about our work, how our Pop-Up Adventure Playground model was developed, and how they too can get involved. It was great to talk about Pop-Ups – the last time I talked about this was in Singapore on our World Tour, but I won’t lie – I missed having Morgan next to me as I presented on our little organisation. I hope I represented us well!

On the way back up North, I said to David that this conference felt different to me compared to the last time I visited. I feel like I have more confidence in myself, more experience under my belt, and real stories of my own to tell. I feel a little different, I think. I am longer the new kid, trying to find my way into the play. It feels like this is a community that I am part of, that I am able to find support in, and hopefully be helping to build a landscape of play for children no matter where in the world we are.

If you want to hear more from Pop-Ups Zan, please read her personal blog. If you want to hear more from us, please continue to explore our website for further information.

By Zan