This summer Play Gloucestershire (a local children’s charity specialising in outdoor play) have brought the national Love Outdoor Play campaign to all corners of Gloucestershire. As part of the ‘Get Involved in Play’ programme and a member of the Free Time Consortium, our summer campaign has focused on delivering the campaign message through volunteering and social action. We’ve never had so many willing young volunteers and parents stepping up to encourage more children to play outdoors.
We take our play out to where children live. This means parks on large urban social housing estates that feature in the top quarter for deprivation nationally and, in contrast, some rurally isolated villages.
Our Young Volunteers backgrounds are as contrasting as the communities we play in. We have volunteers with parents who have the resources to drive them to play sessions and we have volunteers who live in poverty or face difficulties and need additional support to join in. A key group of Young Volunteers all met up on our May training weekend with no idea of each others’ backgrounds. With one thing in common – a love of outdoor play and a desire to volunteer – they gained new skills, socialised, had fun and joined our equitable and happy Play Gloucestershire family.
We have had volunteers who are fostered, disabled, lonely, poor, ill, or bereaved. Some volunteers are young carers, or have experienced domestic violence, or parental separation or have Social Services involvement. Some Young Volunteers have experienced none of these difficulties. They have all willingly given their time to help others and in return – by giving – have reaped the rewards.
Over the summer we have seen these wonderful young people develop their confidence, physical fitness, initiative, independence, make new friends, advocate for outdoor play, show kindness, compassion and gain the trust of the Play Rangers through responsible and playful actions. Research shows that giving time, energy and kindness to others not only helps the recipient, but it’s great for the wellbeing of the giver too. Over the summer we have noticed that people of all ages involved in volunteering and social action during the Love Outdoor Play campaign have looked happy, energised and better connected to their peers and home community. So as those fab people at Action for Happiness tell us “if you want to feel good, do good!”
We encourage our young volunteers to ‘copy behaviour’. This means watching what the Play Rangers are doing and developing new skills and understanding from it. This positive role modelling has now spread way beyond staff developing volunteers. Older volunteers now are positive role models for younger children. I’ve lost count how many times this summer that a child has said to me ‘How do I become a Young Volunteer?’
And it’s not just young people who have developed and thrived this summer. Parents have made new friends at play sessions, supporting each other through adversity, as well as good times. In one rurally isolated community one family had no car; another parent with a car had recently experienced hard times, so they joined forces to bring their kids to our Play Festival and volunteered all day too. That’s play power for you!
Director of Play
Action for Happiness is a movement for positive social change, bringing people together from all walks of life who want to play a part in creating a happier society for everyone.