Playwork, volunteering and social action – a lightbulb year

This week’s blog posts are brought to you by volunteers who are supporting local play projects involved in the Free Time Consortium’s ‘Get Involved in Play’ programme funded by the Cabinet Office’s Social Action Fund. We want to celebrate the amazing work done by the volunteers – children, parents and grandparents – who Love Outdoor Play. And, as this week is National Volunteer’s Week, what better opportunity to showcase their efforts and to say thank you. We hope you enjoy their stories and they motivate you to get involved in your local play project and support Love Outdoor Play!

Lightbulb moments don’t happen often, never mind lightbulb years! Like a lot of play people I was wary of the possible hidden agendas behind the rise in calls for volunteers in the sector – things like volunteers as a cheap option and threat to paid professional playwork, unrealistic expectations and most worrying of all, a diluted or adulterated play offer to children.

But the amazing success of the Free Time Consortium (FTC) has shown that there is a massive and sometimes untapped resource out there that can genuinely support and sustain play projects. The consortium began as a partnership between Play England and 16 national, regional and local play organisations, and its first projects were funded by the Social Action Fund to increase social action in support of children’s play. It has now grown to an impressive 31 members and is actively looking for new partners to join.

By putting individual funding pots into the mix as match funding, the consortium has attracted over £3 million in government funding to date, shared between the organisations.

130601 - 1 realThe idea is that each partner does what it does best, whether that’s national organisations providing central programme management or developing training programmes, or local play organisations delivering front line play support projects that involve local people. The whole is genuinely greater than the sum of the parts because none of the individual partners could do it all on their own.

But surely the numbers speak for themselves, between January and December 2012 the consortium recruited:

  • 20,539 volunteers (9,947 are under 18 and 5,259 are first time volunteers)
  • 26,293 other social action participants
  • 173,072 signed-up supporters.

So who are these people? Why do they want to help out? What is it that has brought paid professional playworkers and these people together?

Many of them are local parents who are passionate about creating better play opportunities for their children in their immediate neighbourhoods. They may not particularly want to go somewhere else to volunteer, but bring great energy and commitment with a bit of outreach support from play organisations.

Others are community organisers or activists who have found play provision a great way to work together on common agendas – no surprises there!

Some are paid professionals from environmental organisations like the Eden Project, Woodland Trust or Natural England who give their time outside of their paid hours. This has grown into a more formal collaboration in paid time, such as the donation of trees or making small but significant additional grants.

Others are people with specific skills and experience in management, finance, governance or fundraising who are more comfortable helping out with back office and administration tasks.

What has surprised me the most (and I suspect everyone else) is that there are simply thousands of people with a wide range of skills and knowledge who want to pass it on to children and the people who work with them. Beekeepers, tree experts, allotment holders, green woodworkers, dry stone wall builders, gardeners, organic growers, forest school or bushcraft experts, willow weavers, furniture makers, insect, butterfly and bird experts, skilled building trade workers are just a few of the very diverse range of people who have helped out.

It has become obvious to me that the more that play organisations and others who can bring something to the play agenda can work together, the more community play provision is likely to survive and perhaps even thrive in an age of austerity.

And if it means more children playing out every day, then we may reverse a 30-year trend. That surely has to be something to aspire to!

Mick Conway is the Play Development Manager at Play England.

Logo - Volunteer's Week


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