Play England: Whither goest thou?

The newly minted independent  Play England is to have its first AGM on the 28 November. It’s potentially a significant event, and that alone justifies sharing some thoughts.

But first, congratulations and thanks to the current Play England trustees are in order.  I have the sense that negotiating the decoupling of Play England from NCB has, for the trustees, been a long, often arduous, time consuming – voluntary time freely given – not always easy process.  But, through their endeavours, an independent Play England has now been bequeathed us. ‘Us’,  Play England’s members.  So, thanks to the trustees for staying with this, for seeing it through.

Independent

It is not the intention of this piece to veer overly towards philosophical ruminations, but there is a distinction worth making and it is this.  True, PE is now formally an independent, self-governing body. But ‘independence’ carries greater meaning than simply a formal designation of legal status.  In the sense Continue reading

Want to take a more balanced approach to risk? Here’s the tool you have been waiting for

For this blog I need do no more than direct your attention to Tim Gill’s blog entitled ‘Want to take a more balanced approach to risk? Here’s the tool you have been waiting for’ which is designed to promote the new Risk-Benefit Assessment Form  published by Play Scotland in partnership with Play England, Play Wales and PlayBoard Northern Ireland, and was commissioned and developed by the UK Play Safety Forum.

The perhaps startling succinctness of this blog should not, dear reader, be taken as a commitment to maintain such brevity in future posts.

‘Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today’

To cut to the chase:  I hold that a society or culture entrapped by a perpetual need to achieve, to endlessly generate quantifiable outputs, to obsessively ‘progress’ – slippery term that – is a society most likely to exhaust and dispirit its members.  For rather too long, that’s pretty much the position that has been reached.

The emblem and motif of such a society is the treadmill, and the force that drives it, fear.  These afflictions affect adult and child alike, trapping both in a perpetual circle of unremitting striving. It continues without cease – no sooner has one goal or objective been achieved, than another looms into view demanding satisfaction.  Performance is all. Repose is nowhere allowed.  We are required to be strivers. Welcome to the club that should have no members.

The symptoms  of this malady are everywhere about us:  the child who from the earliest age must be made learning or school ‘ready’;  the sales assistant – most likely on a low or minimum wage – as well as the  classroom teacher, now both equally performance assessed; the parent frantic to get their child into a ‘good’ school, the better to ‘achieve’; the school shackled to anxiety about their place in the performance league tables; the voluntary organisation, now formally contracted to provide quantifiable outcomes that do not easily mesh with the substance and purpose  of their undertaking; the business executive tethered to work 24/7 via mobile phone or tablet and driven by targets.  And so on.  The list is long. Continue reading

Dear Arthur…

Arthur Batram kindly commented on my last piece, ‘On Evidence. On the Political’. (See the comments section after that article)  For reasons that I hope will become clear if you care to read on, I thought that his piece too rich simply to leave a short comment-type reply.  So, in a scatter-gun sort of way, I’ve tried to respond to his musings. 

But if you’re looking for sustained argument on one topic in what follows, turn away now, you will not find it here.

Arthur,

Thank you for what Word Press defines as a ‘comment’ (this on my piece  ‘On Evidence. On the Political’).

It is in fact not a ‘comment’, so much as a stream of consciousness laced with your customary erudition, tangential references, entertaining allusions, bewildering double-backs leading to what one assumed (hoped?) was the last – that is, final -  thought  only to find oneself in yet another wild flower meadow sown by your mind’s emissions.

Excellent!

For those readers who get to, say, word 505 of your ‘comment’, only to despair that there are another 1,090 to go (but who’s counting?) – read on!  Patience can – mostly – be rewarded, certainly if one takes a look at the links and references. So thank you for the link to Professor of Theology James P Carse.  Looks like  a rich theme to explore, not least because he puts training in its place:

To be prepared against surprise is to be trained.  To be prepared for surprise is to be educated. Education discovers an increasing richness in the past, because it sees what is unfinished there. Training regards the past as finished and the future as to be finished. Education leads to a continuing self-discovery; training leads to a final definition. Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future (This from a paper about his work )

I think I have it right – no doubt you’ll correct me if required – when I say that your comments were a good deal to do with politics; in particular, the qualities – attitudes of mind – required to grapple with and oppose established configurations of power. Continue reading

On Evidence. On the Political

I want to pursue the discussion about ‘evidence’ as it affects, or is said to affect, policy and funding decisions about play.  I allow myself this indulgence in part because I suspect I am at least partially responsible for provoking comment on the subject; and of course Tim Gill is also thoroughly culpable in this regard.

Before proceeding, however, it’s necessary to dispose of straw man arguments that suggest I am opposed to the collection and dissemination of evidence in support of play. A position which, if held, would be absurd.

Nevertheless, the case for evidence deserves some scrutiny, especially when it tips over into wishful thinking.  But first the work of disposal. Continue reading

The Here and Now and related matters

I was flattered to be invited to speak at Play Wales’s SPIRIT conference last week where I ended up talking  about freedom, the here and now, and democratic space.  To my mind the three ideas are inextricably connected to each other.

Part of my talk took what might be called an ‘in principle’ critical stance towards Play Streets  (whilst at the same time, perhaps paradoxically, affirming that if one was started in my street, I would happily help out).  My comments about Play Streets did not meet with universal acclaim.

I have discussed Play Streets in an earlier article, and will return to the subject shortly.  For now, I do not pursue the issue in depth. 

In this article I emphasis again, or more precisely bang the drum for, valuing the here and now of immediate experience.  Since a drum is now involved, I mean of course the HERE AND NOW! an area on which, so far as I can see, public policy is locked into silence.

This piece is something of a mixed bag, being in part drawn from the SPIRIT talk, part from previous articles notably the one on democratic space, and part further embellishments on the key themes. Let’s hope it works.

 I began the conference talk thus:

I’ve had quite a bit of difficulty determining what to say today.  In part it’s because, increasingly, I feel myself engaged in a series of repetitions – for example, about risk, about nature and play, about the Yuk Stuff, rubber IAS, and about a (wished-for)  democratic public realm -  saying again what is already known.

But my difficulty also stems from what might be called the internal rationale of so many conferences.  That is, they aspire to inspire  – that word ‘inspire’ appears in the SPIRIT publicity – and so, for example, toolkits and ‘good practice’ are promoted, examples of exemplary projects pointed at.  And of course this can be very useful.  But  I fear I will be pointing the other way, sharing with you some of my discomforts, irritations and concerns.  I sometimes describe myself as a ‘dismalist’.  This means that where you see a silver lining, I see a cloud.  I am your conference wet blanket.

Continue reading

Democratic space

It’s not an accident that we attach the adjective ‘democratic’ to either describe actual  public spaces, or to mark our aspirations for them.  Indeed, there’s a flotilla of warm words – ‘shared’, ‘communal’, ‘inclusive’, ‘accessible’ – that together act as a collective nod towards the features and atmosphere we believe a truly public, ‘public space’ should evoke.

In the background, no doubt, lurk images and ideas drawn from the Agora of classical Greece and the Athenian City-State, though its democracy was, by our proclaimed modern democratic standards, somewhat lacking in reach, in inclusivity.  Basically, if you were an Athenian bloke you were in the club; if not, then not.

It is however useful to notice that whilst by our ‘modern’ standards fifth century BCE Athenian democracy does not pass muster, its limitations were an overt, explicit, ‘in-your-face’ articulation of the very fabric of the political, social and economic structure of that society.  By way of contrast, visiting and sitting around in what can broadly be described as ‘public spaces’, I’m struck by just how difficult it is to create democratic spaces, how difficult it is to counter the forces and  influences that limit fulfilment of our democratic and inclusive aspirations.   These can include, often in potent negative mix:  forms of land ownership; demographics; socio-economic class; race, age and gender; forms of decision-making;  confused objectives; inappropriate design; mad, thought-neutering timescales; and the allure of fad and fashion . Continue reading