We used to hear a child screaming and grin at each other, knowing they were headed our way. When they arrived the child would be clawing at the straps in their pushchair, desperate to run around. The mother would drop her bag and head for the sofa, equally desperate for the chance to sit down. This was a Pop-Up Play Shop, converting an empty shopfront into an all-ages, all-abilities play setting that is completely free.

You might remember hearing about our Pop-Up Play Shop pilots in Cardiff (with Re-Create Scrap Store) and Paignton (with Play Torbay). You might have seen some of the photographs. It was an amazing experience, to fill a little neglected corner of a shopping mall with cardboard boxes, glitter paint and the extraordinary job of self-directed play.

Time to say “yes”

For us, it was a reminder of how much “no” children hear in the course of an ordinary visit downtown. Stop running up the down escalator, don’t touch that, get down from there – the list is endless! Instead, we offered the opportunity to do nearly anything. Yes, you can pour out that tub of conkers. Yes, you can paint on the walls. The shop had been empty for years before we came along, opening it up for people who had very few places to go. We heard so many stories.

One mother of an autistic boy told us that she’d always hated coming into town. The noises he made attracted funny looks in the bank, she said, “but here I know that it’s okay. I can relax, here, and so can he.” One father who’d recently gained custody of his daughters came regularly, asking us for advice on birthday and Christmas presents. Again and again, we found that opening our doors to everybody meant that those people widely considered “hard to reach” came walking right in. We loved this pilot, and the model it offered for low-cost, high-impact play provision right in our downtowns.

As a result, we were extremely proud to announce the launch of our Pop-Up Play Shop Toolkit! Funded by Awards for All, it’s packed with stories, questions and helpful tips. It can be downloaded for free here or hard copies from a limited print run are available for purchase.

Pop-Up Play Shop Toolkit

We’d love to help more organisations start their own Pop-Up Play Shops, and to hear from anyone that’s doing this already! Let’s get connected and support one another!

To hear more about the Pop-Up Play Shop that we ran in Cardiff, please visit the website. There were also a couple of blog posts about it too. Don’t forget to hop onto our mailing list to get Pop-Ups in Your Inbox, the newsletter from us to you.

By Morgan