Category Archives: Voluntary Sector

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.

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

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

An independent voluntary sector: the long goodbye?

Independence of spirit begets independence of mind.  Kill or constrict that spirit, then voice and action become stilted or stilled.   Individuals, replete with verve and spirit succumb, or feel required to succumb, to institutional anaemia, one symptom of which is the valorisation of ‘pragmatism’ as the overarching, but unspoken,  organisational value.

Pragmatism tends to be self-justifying. By its nature it lends itself to assessing each move or settlement as the only one ‘practically’ available. ‘We are where we are’ and where we are is here, a place not so much of our making, but a nifty accommodation with what we thought was possible.  What was thought possible was already discounted goods because where pragmatism reigns supreme, other reference points are paled-out and diminished. Continue reading