Fraser Falconer, Vice Chair of YouthLink Scotland Board, highlights the need for play at a time when our young people are increasingly indoors.
My first play/youth work happened nearly fifty years ago when I was an accidental volunteer. A small group of boys kicked a ball about on the street as I came home from my first job after leaving school. They wanted both to play football and have fun. I helped them put a team together and we played for a year or so until street life changed and we all moved on. My summers in the early 1970s, similar to those of hundreds of youth and community students at college, were spent organising holiday play schemes. They varied in quality but it was an important experience for many children through the long holiday period. The community support made many good things happen from games to day trips. I had one very significant student placement in a pioneering adventure playground in London. It was self-built from railway sleepers and timber from the area. It was outside but never empty after school and at the weekends. It was staffed by a range of volunteers as well as part-time workers and leaders.
I’m lucky that for some years through the Nancy Ovens Awards for Play, my work for BBC Children In Need and with YouthLink Scotland, I have come to know that early appropriate intervention with children and young people of all ages works for good, whether it is focused on play or youth work. Most youth work organisations had and still have junior sections where although there might be formalities, there is always time for play. As the roaming circles for children have become smaller, it sometimes feels that the recognition of what play means for different children and young people has shrunk too.
I would urge us all not to be lulled into a false premise that either play or youth work is better or more important than the other… we need them both. The child’s brain, as the teenage brain, is open to new opportunities.
The Play and Youth Work sectors want to be connected and we certainly have more in common than might keep us apart. That is why the launch of the Playing Together report as a partnership with YouthLink Scotland and Play Scotland is so important and exciting for children and young people in Scotland. Playing Together is a report of the discussions during the symposium of the same name earlier in 2016 which brought together both sectors. It sets out some key recommendations for practitioners, organisations in both sectors, and for the Scottish Government.
The symposium was driven by the need to ensure that no child or young person misses out on an entitlement to play or youth work because of their age or stage. It is believed that the two sectors can work together to bridge the policy gap for those aged 8-12 years. A significant issue shared by both sectors is the matter of the public perceiving children, and more so young people at play or in public spaces as anti-social behaviour. There needs to be fit for purpose spaces and places for young people to play, gather, be social and be active. Often a problem is new play spaces which are designed for young children and do not take account of the potential of the use of the space by young people.
The report is a landmark piece of work for both sectors, symbolising the will to continue to work closely together. You can read it here.