It could not be said of Bernard that he actually has had, or is having, a career. More that a series of lurches, mishaps, acceptances and rejections finds him in the place he’s more or less at now. These salutary, sometimes meandering excursions have given him an acute appreciation of just how unpredictable life is. This may well have influenced his interest in, and understanding of, risk. Or perhaps it’s the other way round: his stance in respect of risk led him to appreciate the sweet uncertainty of life, and the tenuousness of our schemes and plans.
In moves at once logical and felicitous, ones that still surprises him, he has ended up talking about ‘risk’ – among other topics – at various conference and workshops; and writing about it in various publications, and also now as one of the subjects to be covered in his own blog. And with two illustrious co-authors, he is one of the trinity of authors of that seminal work, Managing Risk in Play Provision: implementation guide. This risk stuff has propelled him to various parts of the UK, USA and Europe to speak about the inevitability of risk, the benefits of risk-taking, and the urgent need to counter risk averseness and a ‘play it safe’ culture. ‘Play’ and ‘safe’, it should be noted, being terms that tussle with each other in the risk debates.
Other areas of interest and activity include ‘regeneration’ and ‘public realm’. There is a worry with that term ‘regeneration’. It sometimes appears a little too pleased with itself, too convinced of its potential salving graces; guilty sometimes – often? – of conjuring false prospects for too many of its beneficiary-victims.
About the public realm: Bernard is shackled firmly to the ideal of creating a shared, democratic public realm where, in particular, children and teenagers are a legitimate and welcome presence.
‘Children and teenagers being seen and heard in shared public spaces is a hallmark of a society at ease with itself’.
One lucky break led him, some years ago, to be commissioned to initiate a series of engagements and encounters directed towards creating Portsmouth’s Cultural Strategy, which he also wrote. Following that, once more sweet felicity took his hand and rewarded his love of Portsmouth’s seascape – a working sea – by being commissioned to initiate work on that City’s seafront strategy.
Bernard is also Director of PLAYLINK, a multi-disciplinary practice focused on securing children and teenagers’ freedom to play in variety of settings, with, as may be expected, a particular interest in the communal (e.g. social housing) and wider public realm. If he had to say why he believes play is so significant, both for the individual and for wider society, it would be that he values play as an initiation into, and embodiment of, the idea and practice of freedom. Thus, for him, promoting play – free play – is a moral and political stance. He is, therefore, ultimately immune to the need for ‘evidence’ to convince him of its value.
PLAYLINK fulfils advisory, consultancy and advocacy roles to a range of clients that include A2Dominion, Forestry Commission, Islington Play Association, National Trust, Arup, schools, nurseries and numerous local authorities. It was part of the winning bid to design the post-Olympic Games, South Park, where it fulfilled an advisory role to James Corner Field Operations.
PLAYLINK also translates thought directly into action on the ground – saying what we mean, and meaning what we say – by in addition to its consultancy role, deploying play friendly, non-risk averse Landscape Architects Associates who design outdoor ‘playable’ places. This it does across the UK.
PLAYLINK likes to think it has ‘backbone’: it does not simply succumb to individual and institutional anxieties, but seeks to counter them by persuasion and demonstration. In many regards – but not all – it has been fortunate in its clients. They are the ones that face forward, rather than expending excessive energy on watching their own backs.