Years ago, I visited an adventure playground. It was a place that once was rich and thriving, but in recent years something had shifted. The children were bored, the site seniors were raising funds to have builders come in and create some new equipment. It had lost that tinkering, evolving quality. The children who attended no longer had permission to use hammers and ropes, to build fires, because the adults didn’t have the abilities or confidence to support them.
Playwork, wherever you do it, requires a diverse skill set. Quiet observation and monster roaring, communication and advocacy, climbing and running, fundraising and planning… there’s so much to do! Each day, we also need to reflect, talk, and prepare for tomorrow. This process helps us recognise the skills that we don’t have, whether they’re interpersonal or eminently practical. Without this, our playwork abilities and these sites have a way of falling apart, or losing that quality that makes them unique.
This is why the upcoming Playwork Campference has a strong focus on practice, and is a fantastic opportunity to share those skills with one another. We know that there are things that you’re amazing at, whether that’s colour-coding spreadsheets or a wielding hammer like a pro. You could be skilled at knots or great at starting fires. We are all great at something. Similarly, every one has something that they’re curious about. You might want to learn more about cooking with children over an open fire, using ropes to create hammocks and rope swings, or ways to test the safety of children’s constructions. All of this is part of great playwork, and needs to be understood alongside the theory.
When you’re deciding whether to attend an event of any kind, you have hopes of what the experience will be like. When it comes to the Playwork Campference, here are mine:
I want to see someone use a hand tool for the first time, to do something that scares them a little bit and feel proud afterwards. I want to see someone scrape their knee and laugh about it, to stir sparks up from the fire and not feel afraid. I want people to leave with the feeling that I remember vaguely from summer camp, of “this is the place where I took risks and made friends, and I hope we all come again next year”.
Is there something specific that you want to learn and practice? Let us know! We want to make sure that this gathering gives everyone the chance to make the connections they need, to experiment with ideas through their own skin and muscles. I hope we will all be leaving afterwards with more friends, more confidence, and even more passionate curiosity than when we arrived.