A child-led play project near Bath which has brought the local community closer together won a Community Care Award in the supporting children and families category, reports Anabel Unity Sale
If you want to engage the children you work with opt for play rangers rather than Power Rangers – like the winner of Community Care’s supporting children and families award.
Run by the Wansdyke Play Association, the Norton Radstock Community Play Rangers project operates near Bath. Its premise is simple: to encourage children to play more in local parks and open spaces, to reduce children’s fear of bullying and to help children feel they have someone who will listen to their needs and give advice.
Community play ranger Charlotte Egmore laughs when she says she loves her job title. “It’s a starting point for a conversation. It raises people’s curiosity.”
She is also happy with the job itself. No wonder, as she and fellow community play ranger, Dan Rees-Jones, can behave like big kids and play outside all day. They run one three-hour play session a week in a green space in the Writhlington area of Radstock and two three-hour weekly sessions in a park in the Tyning area. Between 20 and 30 children and young people aged up to 17 attend the sessions. They take part in activities such as cooking, 35 sports including football, and stone carving. Egmore says: “Sometimes we have taken something as simple as a ball of elastics and the children have had fun for hours with it.”
The rangers are funded by the Children’s Fund and Bath and North East Somerset (Banes) Council and began life in October 2003. The idea for the project came about from the play strategy drawn up by multi-agency professionals and councillors at Banes. They found that parents were afraid of letting their children play outside alone and that there was a lack of suitable green spaces.
Egmore is keen to emphasise that children attending the play sessions are not mollycoddled – they are free to leave the sessions whenever they want and their attendance is not registered, unlike other play initiatives. The rangers encourage children to develop the skill of risk-assessment – hence activities such as building safe fires, from which other schemes tend to shy away.
Egmore says the project succeeds because it is child-led and because children and young people are encouraged to take an active role in its development. “Our approach to working with children has been to make ourselves easier to talk to. We are not authoritarian and have developed a relationship of trust with the children.”
The children themselves report feeling safer. More are playing outside and mixing with other families.
The rangers have had a positive impact on life in the local community. There has been less vandalism since the scheme was launched, and the fire brigade reports attending fewer nuisance fires.
The rangers plan to put the £5,000 prize towards revamping the park in Tyning, which is an isolated area in a social housing estate where unemployment is high, families have low incomes and there are few facilities.
In response to the requests of local children, the goal is to build a BMX track. The rangers wrote to parents and children inviting them to become involved in the track’s development and have received a constructive response. They have taken photographs of what the park looks like now and have drawn up designs. The children have helped to create a model depicting the park with the new track.
Egmore says: “We want the area to be exciting to play in and have lots of different textures and views across the park. It should be something that can be used by the children and the whole community.”