Discordant harmony

From a simple humanitarian perspective, it’s easy to be outraged at some countries’ response to the current refugee crisis. The UK’s response is, I think, simply shameful. And, once again, from a straightforwardly humanitarian view, Hungary’s response is both cruel and brutal. These sentiments are easy to feel, and as easy to express.

But from a different perspective, the ‘refugee crisis’ throws light on some of the fault lines inherent in, and dangers attending, the project known as the European Union (EU) as currently conceived.

The EU has as one of its core aims the ‘Harmonisation’ of policies and practices across its member states. Though a term used in particular in respect of trade relations – the aim of removing trade ‘barriers’ – it is applicable to a wide swath of policies agreed or imposed on its members.

Interesting word ‘harmonisation’. The image it conjures, and no doubt is designed to evoke, is that of unity, one formed of divergent tones, pitches, individual and unique features to become, as the dictionary has it, ‘in agreement’, ‘justly proportioned’, ‘concordant’, ‘congruous’. Continue reading

A conversation about Play England’s future – an invitation to all

A conversation about Play England’s future – an invitation to all

We are asking individuals and organisations to circulate this letter to your mailing lists and contacts.

At Play England’s recent meeting entitled ‘Children’s Play – The Challenge Ahead’, a significant number of people agreed that now was the time to generate a wide-ranging discussion about PE’s future role, this discussion also to consider how PE should go about its business. The emphasis was very much on looking forward in an open minded and mutually supportive way, aware of past and current initiatives and programmes, but not to be governed by these.

This is not a meeting called by PE. It is an informal initiative generated by one of the discussion groups at the ‘Challenge Ahead’ meeting. It will only develop if those committed to children’s and teenagers’ play (PE members and non-members alike) engage with it. The intention is to try and create a space for open-ended dialogue, a chance for all of us, PE trustees and staff included, to think beyond organisational interests to broader questions. We have been in discussion with PE trustees about this series of discussions and they are positive about the initiative and keen to participate.

This letter aims simply to take matters to the next stage. It is an invitation to all those committed to children’s and teenagers’ right to play to join a series of discussions about PE and its prospective future. This initiative is rooted in the commitment to encourage a more open and diverse engagement with the key questions that face us. The formal positions PE might come to as the result of the discussions are a matter for it to decide through its due processes.

Play England is now independent, meaningfully in control of its own future. The signatories of this letter acknowledge that the transition to independence has not been easy and value the ongoing hard work put in by voluntary committee members and staff during the transition and beyond. As a matter of fact, it is important to recognise that the resources (both financial and human) available to PE are currently minimal.

Some of the discussion themes to have emerged thus far include, but are not limited to:

  • In what way, and by what means, can independent, dispassionate thought and talk be encouraged?
  • How can play organisations, supporters and stakeholders work better together and support each other in the current political environment? How can we support each other?
  • Should more reliance be placed on individuals to make voluntary commitments of time and energy to carry forward thinking and action in respect of play in England?  Is it realistic to do so?  (Ask not what Play England can do for you, but what you can do for play in England!).
  • If ‘yes’ to the above, how might this be achieved, and what should be the relation between this voluntary endeavour and PE?
  • How might PE and its supporters campaign on behalf of children’s play, and how might the diverse policy and commitment streams in the area of play be more fruitfully, more cohesively, inter-connected?
  • How might PE and its supporters better reflect the diversity of England’s population?
  • Is there a need to make a decisive break with thinking that assumes progress can be made only if PE is externally funded?
  • To what extent, if any, should PE involve itself in direct service delivery?
  • How might more effective alliances be formed with non-play specific organisations, groupings and campaigns that nevertheless affect the practical realisation of the right to play?
  • What are the major themes/issues ‘play’ should be addressing?

The intention is to hold a series of informal discussions with those who respond to this invitation.  The first step is for those who would like to be involved in the discussions to respond to this email with your contact details, briefly stating any points or issues you would like to see raised.  The discussion topics will be determined by those participating as will decisions about location(s).

It needs to be stressed that this initiative is entirely unfunded and can only be carried forward with the active support of those who wish to participate. This includes, for example, such practical matters as securing no-cost venues, and perhaps building up a modest ‘petty cash’ fund that can help pay travel costs for those who need some help with travelling expenses.

Please note that the signatories of this letter are in no sense leaders of this initiative, their current role being limited to formulating this invitation, accepting and sharing the responses. What happens thereafter will need to emerge in the light of the responses received.

We hope that sufficient responses will have been received by Wednesday 30 September for respondents to then decide next moves.

We look forward to hearing from you. You can respond, saying whether or not you would be interested in participating in such a conversation, and any other thoughts you might have about timing, venue, process, content, etc. Please respond to either or both of us by email (below) to register your interest in participating.

Bernard Spiegal (info@playlink.org.uk)
Wendy Russell (wendyrussell@ntlworld.com)

 Please note that leaving a comment does not consttitute acceptance of this invitation. To do that, please respond directly to one or both of the email addresses above. Thank you.

ASTM and Surfacing Standards – back again, so organise

As you will see from Tim Gill’s blog – Playground Safety: Troubling New Move From ASTM – and the quote below, there appears to be a renewed attempt to amend ASTM surfacing standards, albeit in what looks like a surreptitious way.

‘Overall, the proposal appears to focus on how surfacing is safety-tested once it has been installed (so-called ‘field testing’). Members of the relevant ASTM committee tell me that a change to the head injury criterion or HIC (the key feature in the ASTM proposal rejected earlier this year) is discussed in the proposal. Even though I gather a HIC change is not a substantive feature, the proposal appears to be the latest in a series of efforts to advance this controversial position.’

The arguments against a change to HIC values have been well made and need not be repeated here.

Connect, communicate, organise

There is international, widespread, authoritative opposition to changing the HIC criteria in the absence of close, public, transparent scrutiny of the evidence claimed in support of such a proposal. Thus far, there has been no attempt to respond positively to these demands.

A key problem – and major weakness – for those opposing ASTM proposals is that our opposition is fragmented, comprising of individuals and organisations that have yet to harness the potential of a combined, more systematic approach.

This is in stark contrast to ASTM. It has the organisation and financial ability to advance its interests.

Tim is right to say that he, I and others have urged the need for a wider debate.

But it is not only a question of debate.

Irrespective of the likelihood that the current proposal will actually be passed, there is a need to create some form of formal or quasi-formal grouping, particularly perhaps at this time in the USA from where the current HIC proposals emanate, to address over the long term questions about Standards and Standard making.

At present, discussions about play equipment and surfacing Standards are conducted on the terms set by Standard-making bodies, in this particular case, the ASTM. One can’t help but believe that this court is rigged in favour of sustaining its assumed exclusive right to generate stipulations that too often weigh heavily on play provision, with questionable benefit. This is not to say that Standards have no role to play – they do. But current structures and processes for formulating them are fundamentally flawed.

Given that so many jurisdictions make Standards mandatory, and others treat them as though they were, we are in fact dealing with a publicly unaccountable body that affects public policy – and public expenditure – in a profound and disturbing way. It is not a minor matter. Still less merely a technical one.

It seems to me that those of us arguing for a different approach to Standards and Standard making must, as a matter of some urgency, move from the current position of erupting into bursts of objection to this or that proposal, to creating some form of inter-connected, authoritative entity that can stimulate and sustain debate about Standards and Standard making over the long term – getting to the heart of the matter, one might say. This is particularly pertinent at this time for the USA.

It is the case that Standards are an international matter, have impact accross jurisdictions.  But there is no escaping the fact that individual jurisdictions need to organise for themselves as the first, necessary step towards creating a cross-jurisdiction network capable of making the case for a more reasoned and reasonable approach to play equipment and surfacing Standards and Standard making.


If Kids Company were a bank…

For the present, let me hold it to be the case that Kids Company did good work.

I think it reasonable to make that assumption on these grounds:

  • a study by the London School of Economics, authored by Prof Sandra Jovchelovitch, who, in the words of the Daily Telegraph, ‘heaped praise’ on Miss Batmanghelidjh. The study concluded that Kids Company’s work had made a ‘substantial difference’ to the lives of the children and young people it worked with. The study was funded by the charity, though this does not imply it is tainted.
  • another study, as reported by the Telegraph, by the Centre for Social Justice, the think-tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith, focussed on the children who used its services. It concluded that there are many with “desperate” needs not being met by local social services and that, ‘We have heard of such children and young people cycling in and out of statutory services without receiving the sustained help they need; but for the extraordinary work of voluntary sector organisations (VSOs) like Kids Company, would be entirely without support’.
  • that the charity’s Chairman (Alan Yentob) is not someone one would assume to be easily hoodwinked.

The Government is also much implicated in the matter as Kids Company’s web site makes clear:

‘In April 2013 we were awarded a government grant of £8million across two years. We were subsequently awarded an extra £1 million across the two years for our Summer Residential programmes.’

This would normally be thought to indicate a degree of commitment and an expression of regard for the work undertaken.

Even if one assumes a degree of error and misjudgment

I have no direct knowledge of the matter, but even if one assumes that, as with any organisation, not everything was as good as it could be, that in some areas Kids Company tripped over its own feet, misdirected itself, that does not seem to justify the peremptory way it has been hung out to dry by ‘philanthropists’ and commercial sponsors, still less by Government. Continue reading

The seductions of rubbish talk

It is perhaps a particular feat of our notionally advanced society that it has contrived to obliterate the possibility of communicating in a language which actually communicates what we wish to say, as distinct from what we think we must say.

Adept are we at chucking words and sentences in one direction, and meaning and apt description in the other. This disjunction is perhaps most profound when the attempt is made to say something intelligible about the matters we most care about and value. Make up your own list of what that might be, but art, education, play, disability rights etc are among the inhabitants of this territory.

Rather than speak clearly in that tongue most dear – that is, speaking ‘human’ – utterance is pummelled into ungainly shapes, contorting itself to fit the pre-set template of managerial non-speak: input, output, outcome, impact. Continue reading

Making Places to Play – Is not Enough


A useful contributioon to developing a more wide-reaching critique. The ‘Is not enough’ tag line is correct. It prompts the question, ‘if not enough’, what then?

Originally posted on Playground Guru:

This article was first published in Playground Professionals Newsletter, July 20, 2015

trash boys

As a child of the sixties I spent my teen years grappling with the issues of the Vietnam War, the free speech movement, and civil rights. Our generation wanted to do something to make the world a better place.

Having graduated from San Francisco State with a major in art I went on to Pacific Oaks to learn to be an early childhood educator. One of the great things about Pacific Oaks is that they had preschool classes on campus and all of the graduate students had daily interaction with children. It was at Pacific Oaks that I first experienced a loose parts playspace. We used cable spools, old doors, boxes, tarps, and the like.

Seeing how well these worked I realized that I could combine what I could use in my background from both school and like…

View original 904 more words

Blog 22


Reblog of Anita Grant, ‘The world seems to have become a darker place and this belief is surrounding the children.’

Originally posted on Islington Play CEO:

The numbers are lower at the adventure playgrounds. Parents are worried about letting their children out and children are worried about going out. Regular users and those children who are dropped off and picked up are coming but there are no passers by.

Islington feels like a quieter, sadder place.

I have been speaking to people living and working in the borough as much as I can, there is sorrow but there is also fear. One mum said she no longer feels able to let her son go to play with his friend on the local estate – an estate where there have been a number of knife attacks. Knife attacks by children on children that are not reported on the front pages because nobody died. Another mum talked about her fear when she knows her son is walking back home at 10.30pm from his class. She knows she can’t…

View original 364 more words