Shiremoor, in Newcastle upon Tyne, is a former mining area with high levels of deprivation. The adventure playground opened in 2010 as part of the Play Pathfinder Programme on a previously unused seven hectare site of land. It is managed by North Tyneside Council who provide core funding for staff and running costs. The Shiremoor Adventure Playground Trust raise additional charitable and other funding for salaries and activities.
The Adventure Playground has successfully managed the transition from catering for a very local community, to being a destination playground in the spring and summer months, when between 300 to 500 people visit daily. In autumn and winter it reverts back to a community playground for core local users. Because the playground is less busy, this is when the more adventurous play, like Parkour, takes place.
Play England talked to Shiremoor’s Manager and Senior Playworker, Keeks McGarry about the QiP experience.
Why was accreditation important to you?
“It’s important for a number of reasons. We strongly believe in the professional profile of playwork and welcome being scrutinised by a set of standards that have been endorsed by the sector. Having achieved QIP status it’s given the team credibility and confidence in what we do and how we do it. QIP is also important from the perspective of an Adventure Playground within a local authority model as our approach is not always understood by Health and Safety Inspectors, other professionals and organisations who may not be familiar with a playwork approach.”
Quality in Play is a management tool to support continuous self-assessment and improvement. The process brings together the staff and management team to organise the policies and procedures – ‘how we do things here’ – into a portfolio of evidence.
How did your team manage the process of working through the Play summary areas?
“For most of the areas we started with a bunch of our Annual Reports and policy documents as paper-based evidence of how we were meeting the criteria. So, for example, Area 1 looks at the importance of freely chosen play. Statements in our Annual Reports and in our Play Policy produced robust evidence of how we were meeting this area. Once we had paper-based evidence we discussed other formats such as videos or children’s statements that would provide an holistic picture of that summary area. We knew from the past accreditation process that our weakest area was around publicity and information dissemination so we made a concerted effort to address this when putting together all of our evidence this time round. The QIP process has also helped us to focus on what we are providing as professional playworkers and we’ve used it as evidence of quality in relation to several funding bids.”
At Shiremoor, children are actively involved in the running of the playground, making sure everyone signs in and showing new arrivals around the playground. Regulars also look out for younger children and new users on the structures. Shiremoor has developed a team of ‘Helping Hands’ and more recently ‘Junior Playworkers’ who encourage children to take responsibility for tasks and jobs – and they clearly take pride in and enjoy them. In return, they are allowed on the playground an hour early, which is seen as a great privilege.
“Children were involved in the Quality in Play process right from the beginning,” says Keeks. “Some of our older users had helped in pulling together a file of their own evidence for our first accreditation visit so they guided a younger group in collating a file this time around. This worked on two levels. On one level the children’s file began to fill up with all kinds of ‘evidence’, ranging from pieces of their own artwork, to photos of trips they had been on. We briefed a core group of children on talking about what was in their file so that they could present it on the day of assessment.
This got the children familiar with the process as well as focusing them on some of the summary areas where they could really have an input. By the time the day of inspection had arrived a lot of our children were really familiar with what was going to be assessed and were more than keen to help show the inspector around and talk about the evidence in their file.”
Another part of the Quality in Play process looks at how play providers can actively engage and work with the wider community – ‘the local community is the sea in which play provision swims or sinks.’ As children’s services are increasingly integrated, play providers need to make links with networks of professionals who work with children and young people in their area. This enables play and other services to signpost children and families to each other and build community awareness of what is available.
Working through the Quality in Play process, did it help you to demonstrate the positive impact of the playground on the wider community?
“QIP accreditation has given the Playground a sense of status that really helps when working with other organisations and professionals. To the uninitiated, Adventure Playgrounds are often misunderstood. It can be difficult to build relationships and partnerships in the wider community unless there is some understanding about our approach and our practice and how this can benefit the children we work with. QIP has helped us to develop good, mutually respected relationships in the local and wider community enabling us to work closer with local police, social workers, local schools, colleges and universities, youth offending teams, foster carers and local businesses. This has given us the opportunity to ‘educate’ some of these people and organisations in relation to the importance of play in the lives of children.”
These mutually respected relationships are evident in the Playground’s Annual Report, where PC Kev Rogerson is quoted: “The playground, the staff and the volunteers are part of the fabric of the lives of the young people of Shiremoor. They know the young people so well and are always looking to enhance their lives by providing experiences that help raise their confidence and self-esteem. I would say that the Adventure Playground is one of the main factors in helping us keep youth issues ‘in hand’. If we (as the police) are looking to think of ways to divert young people from disruptive behaviour, Keeks and his staff team are the ones we go to for help and advice.”
An independent assessment of QiP noted, “with regards to a playwork approach or playwork ethos, QiP was found time-and-again to have made a significant difference in practice to individuals, their teams, to children and, in one case, a whole authority. Those who had embraced the process described how ‘the light bulb was switched on’ for them, or how they had been on a ‘learning journey of team understanding”.
Did Shiremoor have this lightbulb moment?
“Our lightbulb has been flickering on and off throughout the process as we have now undertaken the ‘journey’ twice,” says Keeks. “The first time around it was a case of affirmation for the way we worked, with the realisation that although we were confident that we were meeting most of the criteria and standards in the play summary areas, we did not have the evidence to prove this to others! When we were going for re-accreditation the system was familiar and gaps were a lot easier to identify so we could concentrate more on the quality of evidence that we were providing.”
Interested in getting accredited for Quality in Play? Find out more here: