Family Matters: Grounds for success as play delegation triumphs

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Just over a year after starting a fight to save Pitsmoor Adventure Playground in Sheffield from closure, the playground’s users’ group has been highly commended at a national playwork awards ceremony.

A delegation from Sheffield travelled down to the UK Play Conference in Eastbourne last week to share best practice and participate in the National Playwork Conference, which brings together the UK play sector and community.

The representatives from Pitsmoor attended workshops and shared their experiences and journey and reported on the current state of play in Sheffield.

The judging panel selected the Pitsmoor group as being one of the six best playwork teams in the whole of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Pitsmoor Adventure Playground Users’ Group came together after Sheffield City Council announced in February last year that they were going to withdraw council staff from the playground.

They told disadvantaged children and families that this action was due to government cuts being imposed upon the council and that having a staffed playground facility was not cost effective.

The playground could not have to continued to run without staff.

The users’ group volunteers took swift action to provide evidence of how very important play is in the lives of children, families and communities.

Volunteers organised a series of highly successful play events and activities throughout last spring and summer, which hundreds of children and young people and their families attended.

The users’ group also secured funding to enable the playground to continue operating as an open access, high quality provision.

It now runs for three sessions per week, providing family fun day events and training for local parents.

The users’ group is now in discussion with the council to take over the management of Pitsmoor Adventure Playground.

This has already happened at Highfield Adventures, which suffered a similar threat, and is now being run by Sharrow Community Forum with support from the Friends of Adventures users’ group and Sharrow Primary School.

The quality of the service and the vision and efforts of the Pitsmoor team were noted as exemplary.

The judges were highly impressed at how a service, in a very vulnerable area and under threat of closure, could mobilise speedily, effectively and successfully.

The group were commended for turning around a difficult situation into what is now recognised as being one of the six best play teams in the UK.

Users’ group member Yanina Koszalinski said: “We are thrilled at being given this recognition by the sector experts.

“It justifies just why we were so committed to securing what is a vital provision for children, young people and their families in Burngreave and across north Sheffield.” Colleague Laura Watkins said: “It is a great honour and it demonstrates to the council and others making decisions on cutting services to children, young people and families that a rush to make cuts is not always right and that valuable services can be lost and can cause detriment.

“Pitsmoor Adventure Playground Users’ Group has proven the council wrong. This service was worth saving – play is essential in the lives of children and families and, if given a chance and support, they can thrive and succeed, as we have proven.”

Patrick Meleady added: “The passion of the communities to do the best for children, young people, families and communities should not be underestimated and nor should children’s play and playful learning services be written off with speed, as the Pitsmoor Adventure Playground Users’ Group has shown.

“We’re very proud of how everyone came together and how the efforts to develop and implement high quality play has been recognised nationally as being successfully achieved. The children, young people, communities and families are very proud that their Pitsmoor Adventure Playground is recognised as being one of the very best play services in the UK and this occurring within only one year of the adventure playground being threatened with closure.”