One surprisingly cold Friday in May, 90 people from 10 countries gathered at the edge of the Black Sea to talk about playwork.  

 

The Journey

To get to the Campference site from Istanbul, you take a long and winding road towards Sile. Vehicular traffic is slowly replaced by cows. Unlike the drivers, they seemed very relaxed. Several waited under a bus shelter, as if their ride was coming soon. One cow even licked our car as it went past.  Once there, our human participants followed winding paths to their tent platforms, their forest kozas and tiny houses. Beyond those and all around us were the crashing waves of the sea.

 

The Schedule

Playwork Campference 2024 was held at Sahil Kamp Istanbul in Sile, 24th-27th May 2024. Keynotes were delivered beneath a tarp shelter, or in the camp site’s cafe. On the first day, Eunbi shared about her relentless work in South Korea. Then Cemil came along and shared stories about playwork in the earthquake zone. Everyone cried. Representatives from Superpool and IBB building out playwork provision in Istanbul, from street projects to the new credentialing program.

They spoke in the forest, where Jade burned kindling and pine cones to help reignite the fires in all of us. They spoke in the restaurant, where Simon unpacked (and upheld) the Playwork Principles, and our friends from Jordan shared stories overlooking the water. We removed tables and turned benches, so Wren could talk about risky outdoor play, indoors. Our incredible presenters shared their thoughts. On theories and stories of firsthand experiences translating key concepts, on starting projects around the world, and on rethinking aesthetics of place. You’ll be able to see more details in our soon-to-be-released Executive Summary. During Campference, participants ran between sessions and visited the refreshments van, absolutely thrilled and undeniably caffeinated, checking for updates on the printed schedule we’d strung between two trees.

 

The Community

In fact, lots of people cried over those four days. They told us they cried with the feeling of recognition, of being with peers. Many have felt isolated, underestimated, set aside in their work for so long. Others closed their eyes and put one hand on their heart, describing a powerful relief to be spending time with other people who really love play too. One said that she felt like a puzzle piece that had found its set. I imagined all our shapes (feeling so odd, in a world that loves squares) finally making sense together at last.

 

“…there is finally a space for people to find what they need”

Suzanna: One of my favourite and most profound moments at every Campference is the welcome. On this occasion, I stood in front of a gazebo, with Morgan by my side and the Black Sea as the soundtrack. I couldn’t help but smile. It astonishes me every time that people from around the world will gather in the name of playwork, often journeying thousands of miles to find the community that they need. It shouldn’t be astonishing to meet in the name of playwork because play IS important – I wrote a 100,000 word thesis about it! Having been in this field for over 16 years, relentlessly shouting about play’s importance with very little agreement, you can see why I am sometimes doubtful. But that moment, at the beginning of Campference on 24th May 2024, I saw 90 (ish) hopeful and receptive faces, ready to meet someone new, ready to dig a little deeper into play. These people get it. I am relieved and amazed. And so so happy that there is finally a space for people to find what they need.

 

“…it felt transformative…”

Morgan: At every Campference, people talk excitedly about how to carry this energy forwards.  This is the first time that someone asked me that before sessions even began! People told us again and again that coming to Campference felt like a relief. In the final session, I talked a little about the history of adventure playgrounds and how this work has always been a response to collective trauma.  After war, natural disasters and pandemics, this work has given people a template for actions of hope.  It has given people context for what they see, language to discuss, and a community of practice.  Honestly, the proudest moments for me were in seeing the empathetic and vibrant connections being made between playworkers who would never have met otherwise.  That warm welcome isn’t something that Suzanna and I experienced reliably in the UK, and it felt transformative to be part of something so beautiful now.  

 

Final reflections

We want to thank everyone who participated at Playwork Campference 2024. When we say participated, we mean those who were speakers and those who were simply helping to move chairs back and forth; those who answered unending emails and those who turned up at the right time for the workshops. Every single one of our Campference participants made this event what it was, and it was awesome.

Pop-Up Adventure Play is so proud to be part of this marvelous and peculiar community of playwork practitioners.  As people, we are all still remembering how to be together, how to make our visions real in the world, and how to play for our own delight. These few days at Campference in Turkey were a reminder of what can be possible when we try together!

Aerial Photo - Oyun

Oyun = Play (Turkish)