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Experiences from Dudley, by Keith Rogers of Sycamore Adventure Playground

My name is Keith Rogers and I manage Sycamore Adventure Playground in Dudley for Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and I am also a trustee for Play England. Like adventure playgrounds across the world, Sycamore Adventure is currently closed. Before the end of March, we would have 60 children in the morning, a different set of 60 children attend in the afternoon and then another different set of 30ish children in the evening… repeated 6 days a week…. Something very alien to the situation we currently see ourselves in, where at most, my children may have a chitchat over the fence with the next door neighbours children or shout across the road to the children at number 32… and that is their socialising for the day.

My job has always been to get children outdoors, away from screens, away from adults (other than trained playworkers) and running around playing with other children. In juxtaposition to this, I have been redeployed several days a week to roam the greenspaces of Dudley and engage young people in conversation about staying home, staying away from other young people and consequently staying safe. I join a team of detached youth workers whose primary role is to discourage social gathering, inform young people of the dangers of being out and about and to ultimately encourage them to go home. In the current circumstances, this is rightly so, but it’s absolutely mad how different the then and the now are. Funnily enough, my experience has been that young people have been following the guidance… social distancing, just going out for exercise, not mixing with people outside of their families… whereas the same cannot be said for some of the adults I have come across.

I am also visiting the playground weekly, completing maintenance tasks / checks, cleaning, repairing, etc. We are currently painting structures in the rainbow colours as a reminder of these times and the work done by keyworkers. I rarely see the adventure playground empty. It’s beautiful, with blossom filled trees all over. But it’s vital component is missing and without children, it feels kind of eerie. I cannot wait till children can return, but think it’s going to be a very rocky path to return to 150 children enjoying the freedom of this site again… but we will get there I’m sure. We just need to beat COVID 19 and then retrain parents (and some children) to use public spaces, to meet up with friends, to hold hands, to splash about in the same paddling pool, to take turns going down the slide, to pass toys, loose parts, sticks or craft materials around… because right now, these things feel alien. But we will get there. Playworkers are going to have a very important job in this process.

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