By Zan

My phone pinged and a message came through with some news that made me sigh. The Pop-Up Play Shop is based in Radcliffe, and small town on the outskirts of Manchester, UK – an area that lost a lot of the mill-town glory it once had, and is tumbling still. In early September of this year, a child was thrown off a bridge by his father, news that shook the locals who adorned the bridge with flowers for weeks. The message I had just received was news that a life-lost adult who had been sleeping on the streets had died in a doorway from health complications.

Both of these incidents happened within a 100 foot radius from the Pop-Up Play Shop.

Stepping out of the shop and turning to the right, and you will see a bridge. It takes you over the river that floods the basement of the Shop from time to time and is a busy road through Radcliffe. If you turn to the left, out of the Shop, you will see a gray nondescript doorway that is currently home to 5 bunches of flowers.

I’m reflecting on these incidents and am wondering how I feel. I do not think I am filled with fear for my own safety, though I will admit to being more vigilant with our Pop-Up Adventure Play policies of never playworking alone and always risk assessing where ever we go. I do however fear for the Pop-Up Play Shop. From experience, I know that if people don’t feel safe, they don’t play. And if the Pop-Up Play Shop has literally been surrounded with such sadness and death, will people still come? Thanks to an amazing relationship I’ve formed with The Met in Bury, I’ve managed to secure the premises to continue being a place for play, but will people still want it, given all this bad news?

Wandering around Radcliffe the day after the doorway incident, I tried to gauge how this community was feeling: how my community was feeling. I didn’t see fear, and I didn’t see much change – people were still going about their own business as they would normally, but specifically avoiding walking through a suspiciously bleach smelling puddle around The Doorway. As a resident of Radcliffe, I get it. Life goes on: you just turn up your collar to the chilling news and hope it doesn’t happen to you.

This has made me more determined than ever to make sure that the Pop-Up Play Shop is a success. The pilot over the Summer went down a treat, but what I have now is a new dynamic. I am in the thick of it, and I want to do it right. My mind takes me to the hashtag I sometimes use in Pop-Up’s social media: #PlayNoMatterWhat. Play may seem like an insignificant thing when deep dark happenings are literally surrounding us, but it is oh so important. For Shakespeare, it was light relief in tragedy. In “Rise of the Guardians” it was the quality that the team was missing when they were protecting the children of the world from the scary Pitch Black. To us playworkers, play is the answer to many things including therapy in times of trauma, refuge in times of unrest. I want the Pop-Up Play Shop to be a safe space for children and adults to make sense of the world, to find themselves, and to know that no matter what happens in Radcliffe, we will be there, and everyone is welcome. We need to play, no matter what.

So #PlayNoMatterWhat may serve as an unofficial mantra for me during this project. It’s going to be a new sign in the window, and hopefully serve as encouragement to everyone who comes in contact with the Pop-Up Play Shop in Radcliffe.

Pop-Ups Zan will be hosting a Fundraising Fair at The Shop on 1st December to raise funds to reopen later on this year. We’re super excited that she has this opportunity, and hope that you will all be able to support her through this project.