A pioneer of summer playschemes in Sheffield in the 1960s has spoken about his work and how quickly they caught on.
Peter Furniss, who lives in Owlthorpe and has been featured in Retro as a collector of magic lantern slides, also brought in some of his images of those first playschemes.
In the mid-1960s Peter was a worker with Youth Action in Sheffield.
He said: “Youth Action was funded by education department, involving teenagers in voluntary work. They visited OAP and children’s homes, took kids swimming and did decorating for pensioners.
“It was a follow-on from VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). Maybe you couldn’t give a year but could you give a couple of hours a week?”
Peter said that some of the young volunteers were keen to go on to work with children and young people, so they decided to give youngsters something to do in the summer holidays.
They arranged a meeting point at St Mary’s Church on Bramall Lane and the idea was to head for Norfolk Park.
Peter remembers that first day in July 1966 vividly: “The first morning as we turned up we thought we would see a few kids waiting in the graveyard. There were 350 kids waiting!
“I was the only adult there. We took them up to Norfolk Park and organised games and activities. We ran that for three weeks.”
Peter said: “One Friday we organised a trip out into Derbyshire. We had four coachloads of kids. We did a deal with SUT, who said we can do it as long as you do it on a Friday.
“It cost £5 for a coach. We charged the kids 10p and took them up into Derbyshire.
“Later on we did it by train. I went down to the station a couple of days beforehand to do a party booking. They asked how many are you taking? I said 225 kids and 25 adults.
“The man at the booking office said, ‘There’s only two coaches on the train. Hang on a minute’. He picked the phone up and dialled a number. He said, ‘Do me a favour, stick a couple of extra coaches on the 9.34’.
“Then he asked, ‘When are you coming back’? I said the 3.27 out of Grindleford. He said, ‘I’ll get them to shunt the train across at lunchtime’.”
Not a service that privatised rail companies would provide these days!
Peter continued: “We walked from St Mary’s down to the station. I looked like something out of Fagin. Kids were appearing out of side streets and joining on.
“We tried all day to count these kids, putting them into pairs, but further down there were three kids standing together. We went to Grindleford and Padley Gorge.”
Peter remembers that some of the youngsters were a bit overwhelmed by being in open spaces for the first time.
On the journey back, the station master counted the children through and found there were more than there should be. Peter said: “I thought perhaps we’d done a Pied Piper and Grindleford had got no kids left!”.
He said: “We had no trouble and no problems, other than one day in Castleton one little girl sat down and said’ I’m not going anywhere’. It took a bag of sweets to persuade her.
“On the last day we were late, rushing back. One kid got knocked down and broke his arm. When I went round to see his dad, he said, ‘For god’s sake, I’m surprised it’s taken him this many years’.”
At one point they made inflatables for the children to bounce around on. Peter said: “They took a week to make, using Evostik, so we were all spaced out with the fumes! When we got it made it was nearly seven feet high.”
Peter said he ran the scheme again in 1967. By this time he was a junior manager at the council recreation department.
His bosses got him to talk to council leaders about what he was doing and he got approval for eight schemes.
He added: “At the height of it there were 20 schemes running in different parts of the city. We involved thousands of kids. It was taken over by the recreation department.
“I was involved in interviewing and training and adults were appointed for each park.
“Youth Action provided a small group of teenagers working alongside them, who were paid a nominal sum. It gave them an opportunity to be working with kids.”
n Do you remember going to the early playschemes or were you a Youth Action volunteer? Get in touch with Retro about your memories of those days.