By Zan

Our annual tradition is to write about each year in a blogpost. This is mostly to document what exactly we have been up to in the past 12 months, but also serves as a reflective moment for us. Afterall, Professor Fraser Brown suggested that playworkers should work towards a “non-judgemental, non-discriminatory, non-directive and largely reflective approach” in their work, so here we go!

We kickstarted the year in February at Adventure Play at The Parish School in Houston, Texas for a 4-day, 3-night Camping conference. A record breaking 101 delegates joined us for the Playwork Campference 2019 and I think it was a massive success. Certainly as I greeted each play advocate onto the site, I was filled with an incredible sense of togetherness. The Campference was a lovely opportunity for playwork folk to gather and be themselves. No one person there needed to convince anyone of the importance of play, and I know for me this came as a welcome break, and a solid reminder of why we do, what we do. We want to thank Jill Wood for planning the Campference with us and for trusting us to host this with her. A million thank yous also to Ali Wood who alongside Jill were keynotes for our event. We also want to thank all 101 delegates for coming to Houston to meet with us, to eat with us, and we hope that they will continue advocating for play in their part of the world. We look forward to organising Playwork Campference 2021 and can’t wait to welcome delegates once again into a space where we can all nod knowingly at one another in playful understanding.

Despite its massive undertaking (and how tired we were afterwards), Campference wasn’t the only thing we did this year! Shortly after getting back to the UK, I left for Hong Kong and Malaysia to do some serious playwork training. This is my second year of training playworkers in my second language, and in case you’re wondering Cantonese isn’t the most playworky of languages. Working with Playright in Hong Kong was a fascinating adventure where I found myself training playworkers in a board room, running around in parks being chased by smiling children, and speaking with government officials about the importance of community and play. I left them just as the political climes became unstable and think of my fellow Chinese playworkers often as they negotiate difficult times where children play with more resolve and urgency than ever before. My stay in Malaysia was also a challenge. I was hosted by Queenie Tan, an amazing worldschooling parent who asked me to speak with skeptical parents on play and risk. I might need a whole other blogpost for why this was hard, but I think my Dad summarised it quite well: “It’s like trying to turn a haystack into a bunch of needles while also looking like a piece of hay.” This was a challenging trip for me, but I think I left a positive impression and I hope to go back again soon.

A few months after my Asia adventure, Morgan left for a 3-week road trip tour of what I keep calling (in by brain, not out loud) the Eastern Mid-Western area of the USA. The Pop-Up Tour 2019: Morgan Edition was a 5-location tour was a little less logistically busy than other tours (where I usually fill every possible gap with work) but was full-on all the same. In Indiana, Indiana and Missouri, Morgan met with long time play advocates as well as brand new ones, and spoke wonderfully on the importance of working together in play in times of separation. I think that the Pop-Ups Tour 2019: Morgan edition went really well and feedback certainly backed me up on this. Folks described Morgan as “insightful” and “engaging”, and hopefully that message of play will stay with workshop attendees for a while. Afterall – together, we are better playworkers.

It was in the middle of Summer 2019 that I was able to open my first ever Pop-Up Play Shop, right down the road from where I live in the UK. After a bunch of pop-up adventure playgrounds in my community the year before, I had to take a short break due to having no real location to do regular sessions. The folks of The Met got in touch and we have been working together on the Pop-Up Play Shop in Radcliffe ever since. This project is close to my heart, and literally close to home: giving children a space that they can take ownership of and fully be themselves is huge. In a world where everything is constantly changing (and often not in the favour of children and in their play) my personal motto of the year is summarised in the following hashtag: #PlayNoMatterWhat. It requires a little TLC, and a lot of patience, and supportive community of play advocates.

Scattered throughout the year, we also did a bunch of other gigs. Morgan did loads of training and went to Wilton CT, Lawrence KS, and hung out with the lovely folk of KOOP Adventure Play. She also keynoted at a conference in Indianapolis! I did some training in Glasgow and popped up in Stoke, Accrington, and Stockport, driving around the UK with a car full of loose parts, ready to play. We have been busy, to say the least!

We had some administrative changes this year too! We relaunched our website and now have a brand new logo thanks to Think Design. Everything looks beautiful thanks to their creative reorganising and insistence in creating great quality websites. We can’t thank them enough! We also brought Adam Flannery to our little charity, who now will be sitting (metaphorically) alongside Amanada Richardson and Ricky Tsang as our charity’s board of directors. He brings loads of energy and ideas to the charity and we can’t wait to see what we can do together.

To sum up, it’s been a tiring but amazing year. A massive thank you to the lovely folk who continue to support us from all over the world – we couldn’t do this without you. Morgan and I hope you all enjoy the Holiday season and we’ll see you in the new year for even more playful adventures!