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California Playworking

In the UK we have been reeling from cuts, and playwork has been particularly affected. In North America they are growing playwork as a profession, and experimenting with different ways of offering it.

I flew to California in February to speak at a Playwork ‘Campference’, an outdoors camping conference located on a new adventure playground being built by community activists. 90 delegates from all over the US and Canada as well as seven other nations braved freak gale force winds and rain to attend, learn, and play. They invited me to talk about the role of Unite in nurturing and growing the UK’s playwork profession, based on my experience as former Playwork Convenor on the Community, Youth and Playworker’s Section National Committee. The UK is a world leader in playwork, which promotes play that is ‘freely chosen, intrinsically motivated, and personally directed’.

Delegates were surprised - and impressed - that the largest union in the UK engaged in supporting playwork. I explained this was due to hard work by playworkers, support from youth and community workers, and backing from Union officials, but we were still a small fish in a big ocean. I told them that we had a playworker representative on the Section’s National Committee, regularly debated playwork motions at our conference, and playworkers took part on other national, regional and local committees. In addition I stressed the support that playworkers can get from their local branches. Playworkers also actively engage in union activities, both nationally and in their workplaces and communities. Terms and conditions are a big issue for UK playworkers, and I explained we had not yet been successful in playwork being adopted onto the national bargaining committee for youth and community workers; one of our key goals.

The delegates’ enthusiasm was inspiring. In the UK we have been reeling from cuts, and playwork has been particularly affected. In North America they are growing playwork as a profession, and experimenting with different ways of offering it. These include not only a few long-standing adventure playgrounds, but pop-up events and imaginative community driven models. I was impressed by the delegates’ desire to learn and the respect that UK playwork has, and this has made me realise that we in the UK have a lot to give and that we should be proud of what we have accomplished. I’m hoping to get back to North America sooner rather than later, for the energy, good coffee, and generosity. I’d like to thank Devon and Plymouth CYWnfP branch, our National Officer Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, and (always) Kerry Jenkins for their support to attend.

Chris Martin is a Devon-based playworker and branch officer. He is a former National Playwork Convenor and was an activist on the CYWnfP NISC and SW RISC.

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