Six years ago I left an interesting job that I felt I was doing well to go back to a profession that had first won my heart as a teenager – playwork. Playwork, an occupation that many people have never heard of, has its roots in the early adventure playground movement but it’s now studied and practiced in lots of different contexts.
I first began became a playworker over sixteen years ago at an adventure playground for disabled children. From the start I loved helping the children play, explore and develop in this dynamic and joyful environment. As my experience grew I took on more challenging roles, managing and developing the projects themselves.
In March 2010, after the two years spent away from playgrounds, I started my job as Project Coordinator for the wonderful Oasis Play in Stockwell. In the last six years I’ve been part of an incredible team developing services that include a beautiful nature garden, an exciting adventure playground with an active sports programme, and a dynamic youth-led go-kart track. We’ve moved a building, embedded inclusion across all three sites and had community event after community event after community event.
I’m lucky to have been part of a community of people creating remarkable spaces and opportunities in the heart of our city. A few weeks ago I wrote about the difficult decision Leftwing Idiot and I had taken to stop working regularly for Oasis so we could concentrate on Touretteshero. Of course this is very exciting too and next week our UK tour of Backstage in Biscuit Land kicks off in Nottingham. But first I had to make it through my last proper day at work, and that was today.
I was doing OK until the middle of the afternoon. The sunny playground was bustling with activity as I made my way across it with Fran who was supporting me. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw someone from the inclusion team playing on the ‘boarder swing’ with a group of children. I was instantly reminded of the huge old swing that’d been on the site when I first started working there. Thinking about how much everything had changed, and remembering all the children and young people I’d shared memories with, made me crack. I started to cry, gently at first, but then the tears came flooding out.
I’m making such an enormous change to my life, and regular readers will know I’m not a big fan of change. I took refuge in the brand new high dependency toilet unit – and I can confirm that it’s a great spot for a cry. Fran and I had a cuddle and then she said, “Right, now you have to go to circle time.” Through my tears I said, “I’m not emotionally resilient enough for that!”
But Fran wasn’t accepting any excuses and we headed over to the grass circle. We arrived to find about sixty children, staff and parents waiting for us. Our boss made a speech and Leftwing Idiot and I were presented with gifts from each site: flowers from the nature garden, an album of photos and messages from the playground, tyres made into plant pots from the kart track, and a signed football from the sports project. It was a lovely send-off and I’m so glad we got to say a proper goodbye to everyone.
Both Leftwing Idiot and I will continue to support Oasis in a number of different ways so I’ve no doubt that this is really a pause rather than a proper goodbye. In fact I’ll be back at the playground in April to help out with a few bits and pieces.
The last six years have included some of the biggest challenges of my life, but they’ve also been some of the happiest, and Oasis has been at the heart of this.