Play Makers

This short film celebrates play moments and memories from our Play Makers project that worked throughout 2014 to re-imagine the Wisbech Adventure Playground in fantastical ways. The project began in April with a series of workshops for schools and families, run by CCI artists Debbie Hall and Filipa Pereira-Stubbs with Susanne Jasilek. People of all ages were invited to weave stories and dream structures, exploring play, adventure and the outdoors ….all ideas were included (however weird and wonderful). We continued to work alongside the Playteam in the autumn, reaching out to other groups working with families and young people in the community and helping to celebrate all the positive play opportunities the playground offers.

The project idea put forward by Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination and Wisbech Adventure Playground certainly stood out as an innovative approach.  This was initially challenging in terms of our assessment and our understanding of how the activities planned would lead to the desired outcomes.  After detailed consideration, and perhaps with some reservations, the project was funded.   Now 6 months on, as the impact of the work begins to be analysed, we are encouraged by what has been achieved and we are delighted by the way in which the project team has delivered.

Jane Darlington, Chief Executive, Cambridgeshire Community Foundation

The intention of the Community Fund was to enable communities to take forward initiatives that they felt would make a positive difference to reducing deliberate fires. This project was not something that we as a Fire Service would ever have thought of undertaking, yet the project has made a big impact in the local community and has reduced anti social behaviour in the area, a clear indication that given the opportunity communities are best placed to understand what will work for them in their area. We are pleased to have supported this initiative and thank all those involved for their hard work.

Rick Hylton, Area Manager, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service

The posts below offer further details of many of the creative moments in the project.

A charter for children’s play


Filipa, Debbie and Susanne worked alongside the playteam in this last week to complete the final stages of the project. 

The story sharing continued with a visit to the Rosmini Community Centre with Reuben and Angie to talk with people there about play memories but also think together about how these two community spaces could work together.  The playteam’s newly created photo stories were invaluable in sharing ways that the playground works and enabling positive conversations about future links.

One of the key aims for this stage of the project was to work together to celebrate and make visible all the positive and purposeful forms of play connected with the playground. A charter for children’s play was produced illustrated with images of children at the playground. The photo stories were also used and in progress is a film showing images from the projects alongside recordings of many of the stories we have heard from all sorts of people in the community. The many different voices makes this an intriguing resource and a temporary cinema screening of the material at the end of Friday in the barge proved popular instantly with the children there. There are now display boards that will travel back to partners and different groups and be part of sharing new conversations about the work.

Connecting Octavia Hill


As we sat in conversation in the barge last week, an antiquated enormous black cab drew up and out stepped the very tall, elegant and, as we were to discover, hugely charismatic Peter Clayton, Director of the Octavia Hill Museum. This was his first visit to the playground.

Not a native of Wisbech, Peter has lived and worked in Wisbech for over 40 years, dedicating himself to overseeing and managing the many hurdles of keeping Octavia Hill's memory and Museum thriving.

The main objective of this time together was to explore how the Adventure Playground team and the Octavia Museum could begin to create mutually interesting links.  The Adventure Playground, less than 2 miles from Octavia Hill’s birthplace, is a site entirely in the spirit of her vision and work.

We spent the afternoon at the museum, conversing and collecting stories about play and adventure from the staff, finishing in the extraordinary library bequeathed to the Museum. Here we uncovered a treasure trove of literature and imagery from the 50's and 70's, all extolling the benefits and principles of adventure playground spaces and play for children and reminding us of the significant traditions that the playground belongs to.

So many adventures


We want to share all the ways that adventuring happens in the adventure playground. Here are some brilliant new photo stories that the playteam have put together and that are now displayed in the barge.

Ways to Remember


We’ve been working with new groups at the Spinney in these last sessions encouraging them to discover the joys of adventurous play in this extraordinary space.

Stories of adventuring are emerging everywhere as we offer new ways into the play equipment with different materials as prompts. We want to remember them and continue this celebration so we’ve been trying out a few different approaches. Debbie has created these story photos and Filipa has edited a joyous film of children from Krazydays and Oasis Nurseries. The Playteam are going to keep collecting more and a display of these will be forming in the barge that everyone can contribute to.

What an amazing day we had discovering the adventures we could have at the Spinney with a few emergency blankets, and a couple of balls of wool.  Collaborating with the play workers we helped the groups to discover the delights of adding reflections and wild windyness to their boisterous play. The children were unfolding and examining with delight the fabulous slippery, silvery sheets, which caught the blustery wind and reflected the sky in wonderful ways!

After lunch we also made trails with chunky wool. As we let a ball of wool take us on different journeys, we discovered new spaces, exciting objects, and we followed it's path to places that triggered memories. Harley (4 last week, she was proud to tell me) wandered with her wool through a forest full of teddies, round the 'round and rounder' past the place for swimming, making an 'x marks the spot ' until she found the sand pit where she recounted the time when (some time a go) a tumble made her hurt a lot and she had to find her mummy.

Our adventures


Our first workshop in a series of 4 for this term welcomed groups from Krazydays Nursery and Oasis Children’s Centre last week. It was great to see the Play Team introducing this space to so many young children and their educators and to see new connections being made. Parents and carers for the Stay and Play session also joined in and we began the process of creating together but also remembering stories of adventuring:

Play has changed through necessity, I suppose...When I was a child, it was all outside, playing with your friends up nd down the street...whereas now people are very reluctant to do that...Play has changed.  Thats why its great when they have a facility like this where they can come out and run about and express themselves, play on their own or play with others. Grandfather

Me and my friends played on the medium size slide.  At first it was risky because I was too little to climb up the wooden steps.  But I was able to pull myself up the metal slide all the way to the top.  Because I climbed with my friends, I got squashed and I had to shout very loud as we all came crashing down.  Finally we learn to take turns and scream to let my friends know we were sliding down.

We are digging for treasure.  It's in here somewhere...Pirates, the bad pirates kill the good pirates.  Oh no, the treasure, where is the treasure?

Celebrating National Playday


Today was National Playday, always a big event for the playground, and we joined in the celebrations and completed this stage of our project. Over 500 people spent the day there, picnicing and playing and generally enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. The four flags made by the different groups were put up, bunting hung, and a boat of wishes and stories completed. A final temporary installation of recyled materials also grew around us as the day progressed. Feedback from the children and families was unanimous - the project has improved the playground and there should be more experiences like this in the future.

'I feel proud'


This group of students have designed and decorated their own flag to be flown off a 6 metre fishing pole attached to one of the gates. Today they put it up but first paraded it around the playground, even taking it to the top of the tallest climbing frame. They tell us how proud they are of their work for the playground:

I feel very proud to go there -  I go there and I’m like ‘I helped make that’ the signs on the outside…when my mates see that and say ‘oh it’s amazing, it’s actually got Spinney written on it’, I say ‘I helped make that’ and the arches I say ‘I helped make that too’……I am really surprised that it all came together and that no one ripped down the stuff – the dome has stayed – it’s important that things can stay there.... I think kids really didn’t have a say about what went in there and now with arches and the domes and things like that the kids kinda of have a say about what looks good or doesn’t. 

There are 5 more flags to add for Playday on the 6th August when we will be celebrating play in this brilliant space and sharing all the fantastic re-imaginings from the project.

Karolis parades the flag

Celebrating and cleansing with fire


For this final session the County Students had been making a character from willow and tissue paper that we had agreed to burn together in the fire pit.  We wanted to share a fire that could be celebratory and also cleansing and had introduced the idea of the character being something that could represent all the things they wanted to get rid of. Conor, Karolis and Chelsea were quick to embrace this idea and the increasingly evil looking figure, that was referred to only as ‘he’, was covered with words by the end with everyone finding a space to add something.

But the fire was also a place for offering wishes and everyone took this very seriously too, finding quiet corners to think about what to write. Karolis invited a mother and her toddler who were there for a play to join them for this part and they too added their wish.

By the end of the morning, the fire was set and ‘he’ was ceremonially placed on his own willow chair. Everyone who had been involved in the project from County School -  Conor, Karolis, Chelsea, Kiri, Donatas, Sophie, Conor, Freddy and Shanell – was able to be there to see the burn.

Yeah, I’ve done it


We have been building little things to go into the arches for the kids to run through and play with. It’s been really fun doing it and I’ve enjoyed it a lot – though some of the stuff needs trimming down and retying. It feels really good to see something you’ve worked on going up for the first time…it gives you that sense of yeah, I’ve done it.


The students from County School added all sorts of decorations to the arches in the sand area this week and the local nursery group tested it out for us straight away.

Toddlers enjoying the arches in the afternoon

Swinging through the beads - Mothers and Toddlers Group

Chelsea working on Toddlers arches

They also got on with creating their characters for their final celebration event next week . We’ve been reading about the Enid Porter project and fenland traditions including burning objects to break a spell and we wanted to recreate this in our own way in the project.

Karolis and Debbie papering body

Karolis and Debbie make the bodies of the characters to be burned

Connor, Freddie and Karolis make the characters that will be burned next week

A welcoming place to be


We are all struck by how welcoming the Spinney is to us and to everyone who visits and passes by. CCI artist Susanne Jasilek joined the project for the day on Saturday and describes how working at the entrance is a really good place to be – we say hello and welcome them to come and play with various different activities but it serves another purpose too – people walking their dog stop to have a look, to say hello and conversations being with people who don’t have children. People are interested in what is going on.

This week we began willowing across the entrance and the year 5s from Orchard Primary spent a stormy and dramatic friday installing their laminated pictures into the circles they had made which filled parts of the fence area brilliantly. Parents joined us at the end of the day to feast on all sorts of Polish biscuits the playteam had bought from a local shop.

On Saturday a willow hula hoop was made and decorated by some of the girls before they taught Reuben how to do it too.

We were also really pleased to meet Ellie too who was shy to start with but ended up staying most of the day and getting her Dad involved too. He offered to donate his laminator and paper as he could see it would be put to a much better use.

Wisbech Standard joined us on friday - you can see their story and  gallery here.

'It does give you more joy'


The playground is continuing to be re-imagined by the activities of the play makers joining us both during the week and at the weekends. The play team now get out lots of materials when we are not there so things can continue without us. Even the fence is being woven on.

It was great to see the students from County School remembering their willow skills and showing their teachers how they can do it too.

Here are Mike, Aimee, Megan, Macie-Mae and Lauren talking about the playground, this project and why they like being there. It does give you more joy was how Macie-Mae summed it up.

New structures taking shape


Thanks again to the team from County School students and some help after school last week we have some new structures taking shape in the playground. This time it is a series of arches for the toddler area which will be decorated and added to over the next two months.

Reaching for the sky


On this wet wednesday morning we worked hard together on the flags that will eventually be raised 6 metres above the ground beside each entrance. Even Dora, the playground cat, got involved.

In just one morning


Working hard together we managed to create this whole new structure and decorate it at our second session with the students from County School last week including Jack, Koralis, Freddy and Connor.

Sophie designed how to work with and place the materials, which created a brilliant final effect.

Freddy also imagined how to add on a new curved entrance way and we’re planning to try that together when we next meet them.

Where do you get that?


Everyone has been fascinated by the willow and where it comes from. Here are some photos of it being grown, harvested and sorted  - all this before we get to use it as a material for workshops.

The willow is all grown organically by Debbie on a farm in Abington, Cambridgeshire. Each rod is individually cut, hand-sorted and hand-bundled!

You can read more about Debbie's own work with willow on her website

Photos by Debbie Hall, Nick Fleming and James Ratchford.

It makes the conversation flow


Another stormy day meant that work had to happen in the barge as well as outside on the domes but it was great to see some of the older children getting involved, really taking time with their drawing and working alongside each other so peacefully.

But what we created - the ambience, the atmosphere - we were all siting round on the rocks, talking about anything that came into our head, but using that as a joining thing...using it with your hands, you’re doing something with your hands – but it makes the conversation was absolutely superb.  
Brian, Play Team

Getting involved

Magiya’s ring taking pride of place in the barge

Magiya decorates the little den with flowers, and Ernestas carefully clips away all the rough bits of willow so its smooth for the little children

It turned out amazing


Soon as I walked in here, my lip dropped and I was like oh my goodness! I thought it was going to be, like, ever so boring. But it turned out amazing.

This was Aaran’s feedback about a day of making and drawing together in school, after wind and rain meant we couldn’t be out in the playground.  Their pride in their work was fantastic with many asking to take work home to show their parents.

Reuben and Angie, from the play team based at the playground, were able to join in the morning session too and enjoyed some time working with the children – it’s been magical, really magical, the kids have really been so involved and so quiet and it’s been so peaceful, yet kind of energetic at the same time.

How can you make things out of a stick?


There was a fear at the beginning of this project that work left out might get damaged in between sessions. We all agreed that we mustn’t assume this and that we should find ways for the work to be as visible and owned as possible. The kids are encouraged to name and label what they have done in order to leave a clear mark that they made it and were there in the project.

The play team, who have embraced the project brilliantly, are also encouraging the kids to add to and change the structures in between sessions. Decorating the den has been a big hit - here it is at the end of this Saturday. Some things do get borrowed and moved around which brilliantly embraces the idea of re-imagining.

Taking Shape


A group of students from the County School are going to be joining the project on a number of Wednesdays through this term. They’ve been helping the play team with construction projects already but we are all keen to find ways for them to work creatively.

This was their first session with us and it was an opportunity to get to know each other and introduce the ideas and opportunities.  

Jack working on the den

Koralis’ idea was to create his own ways to fill in the gaps

I was surprised how well I did


I was surprised how well I did - several children wrote this on their feedback sheets at the end of our first Play Maker Sessions in the playground during the Easter Holidays. Debbie and Filipa had begun the project, arriving with a car literally full of willow for everyone to get making with. They began by creating a project base and setting out a range of ways to make and play together, including the willow with specialist tools for digging it in and shaping it, drawing materials, and notebooks to gather stories in.

Listening as always with our work will be a key value – we want to listen to their stories, to their hopes and fears for the space we are meeting them in and the community it sits in. Stories were gathered from the many dog walkers passing by outside the playground, from the groups of boys playing on the container roofs, from the clusters of girls chatting on the roundabout and from the families who joined us during the day.

It was important that the project could start like this – two full days of activities that the children could come and go from. We were struck by the age range we met throughout the days and the spirit of independence and exploration that is fostered there. The play worker team were whole-heartedly welcoming and brilliantly trusted by the children who were thrilled to see them get involved with the making and creating. This was a great way to draw them in. Many wanted the time to watch from a distance before deciding to try out but also the choice to make something, leave for a while and then return to do some more.

I was surprised by how happy I was working

This was another feedback comment and seems to confirm for us the choice of these materials for this project. Willow is so brilliantly flexible – it works on the huge and relatively small scale, is quickly rewarding but also challenging, needing real physical effort and sometimes struggle.  Many of the children were curious about where we got it from and fascinated that Debbie grew it.

By the end of the second day willow structures had been woven around one of the entrances and attention turned towards a relatively underused stone circle that Jackie, one of the play team, had pointed out. A den was begun there, and the unused stones inside became benches on which conversations and joking flowed. It has a view of the whole park and we are looking forward to working more with it over the next few months.


A welcoming space


Our project began with a visit to Orchards Primary School in Wisbech, meeting the whole school in an assembly to talk about adventuring and making together and then working with all 56 year 5 children in groups throughout the morning to hear their ideas for this space.

We encouraged them to think freely, creatively and collaboratively and invited them to re-imagine objects and spaces. They explored the idea of fantastical and adventure and these responses for ‘Fantastical’ we want to make sure we keep space for in future workshops.

Many of their drawings picked up on the sense of the importance of feeling made welcome and it is this value in particular that has influenced planning for some of the early activities we will be offering.