hat games did you play outdoors as a child? Were you into kerby? What about tag? Hop-scotch? Whatever you spent your time doing, the chances are that you’ve got some pretty fond memories of the great outdoors from your younger days. Leeds Play Network are a charity committed to ensuring that generation after generation of the city’s children have the opportunity to make some of those memories for themselves.
‘We started in 1988 as a group of people that were involved in working with children on summer play schemes,’ explains Lynn Smith, one of the charity’s trustees. ‘We all felt very isolated working within our own groups – there was no network or support organisation – so a group of us got together and set up Leeds Play Network to support people running voluntary play schemes across the city. We were more of an advice, support and information organisation, but we’ve evolved into where we are now which is more hands-on work with the children.’
Play Operations Manager Yvonne Craig explains a little more about what exactly Leeds Play Network does. ‘We deliver play sessions across the city that involve den-building, natural play, junk-modelling and lots of different play activities,’ she says. ‘We give advice and support to play settings around the city. We also run a Play Partner service which provides a one-to-one support worker to help children with disabilities access mainstream play activities. We were recently successful in lobbying for change – we worked with the local council to put a new policy in place that makes the process easy for parents to close their street for street-play sessions. Some communities might think “we’re going to close our street once a quarter,” some might say “we’re going to close ours once a week through the summer.” At the moment, we’re in the process of trying to use some empty shop units in Leeds to provide a place for children to meet and have something to do, and we always have a full summer programme – we’ll go out to different areas and run play sessions in places like Middleton Park.’
That all sounds very worthy and wholesome but, unfortunately, Yvonne reports that ‘the future’s looking uncertain.’ From having to downsize their office to cutting their number of working days to three per week, the charity is suffering an increasing lack of support from funding providers.
‘Eight or nine years ago, there was a big emphasis on children’s play,‘ Lynn recalls, ‘But most of that funding seemed to go on sport and leisure. I don’t think many people understand play as we deliver it – they think that children do it naturally. They do, but a lot of them don’t get the opportunities nowadays – they need the space to do it; they don’t need control and structure, it’s about allowing the children to do what they choose to do, rather than forcing things on them as activities. That’s the ethos we take out into street play – we take as much equipment as we can and let the children control their own play.‘
Yvonne shares Lynn’s view of the funding, but is enthusiastic about the services that Leeds Play Network is still able to provide. ‘Every time we apply for funding there’s less available,’ she says, ‘But we go out and take play-workers to different parts of the community, we give leaflets to all the schools and advertise that we’re going to be doing these play sessions. They’re free for children to come along to. Children can come and go as they choose and they’re free to choose what they want to do. We believe that all children have the right to access play.’
If you’d like information on Leeds Play Network’s services including their summer programme and play sessions, or if you’d like to donate, visit www.leedsplaynetwork.org.uk or www.facebook.com/leedsplaynetwork