slowdown

Looking back on it now, the earlier days of lockdown were gloriously quiet and peaceful, if you were able to set aside the anxiety and fear. The weather was remarkable and the evening air was heady with the smells of early flowers. The loudest of all noises was the fluid luxury of blackbird song.

From the first realisation that this virus was going to take control of our lives, Playworkers were deeply worried about how children would cope without the opportunities to play with their friends. Playing is how children make sense of the everyday world. So at this time when the world has changed around them, and adults are having a hard time coping with the fear and bizarre new rules of survival, the one thing children need to do most of all is to play, preferably with their friends.

So our playing at sociable distance on the street became a bit of a lifeline.

We invented things to do on breezy days, making kites out of plastic bags and string and flowing super hero capes from fabric. We played marbles and carried on chalking, blowing bubbles and hopscotching.

The children became very proud of their friendships and their playing. They relished the quiet freedom afforded by the street and the novelty of being allowed to use it, protected by the adults in their new extended kinship groups, who drew two metre circles so they could feel and see what that distance looked like, played with tape measures with them, brought them hand sanitizer and stood guard over the stray cars that ventured down the road. By doing these small tasks, the grown ups were creating a safe space for the children to get on with their playing.

The Junior Citizens showed how proud they were of their playstreet by making signs to put on the lampposts to give drivers a heads-up that this was now a shared space. The grown ups helped them out, but the artwork and the designs were theirs. And when it came to fixing them up, the children decided where the street signs should go, and the adult did the work for them.

playing


The following was written by Mudchute Playworker, Penny Wilson

The fourth story of our street.

If we were only a tiny bit late coming out for our morning Elevensies, by week four we had children knocking on our door impatient for playtime to begin.

I had made up a batch of pigment to paint a longer lasting hopscotch grid on our pavement. Very quickly the squares stretched out up and down between the houses of the playing children. Almost as quickly people walking along the road started to hopscotch along it. Sometimes they were giggling and laughing, other times they were quite serious and matter of fact about it.

On our Sunday sociably distanced celebration, the grown ups were keen to make the grid even longer and they chalked in each of the squares.

We invested in giant biodegradable balloons which bounced on their yarn tethers in games of keepy uppy. Of course some were lost down in the ‘areas’ of different houses, but residents were happy to fetch them out and send them back into play. Some fell casualty to rose bushes, but that is the way of balloons, even giant ones.

Another thing that brought play to the street was bubble mixture. A great recipe that we had researched and used many times for PATH (Play Association Tower Hamlets) events. The huge iridescent bubbles shivered and flew up above the houses or along the streets. We used the mixture in the middle of the road so that the pavements didn’t get slippery. This meant that an adult stood in the street to signal to the very occasional cars and delivery trucks that children were using this space for playing. Seizing the opportunity, the boys played cricket and neighbours stood apart nattering while they kept watch. Most drivers were happy to slow right down or turn around and go back the way they had come. Bubbles make people happy and we waved thank you to each other. The occasional grumpy drivers found us slow to move out of their way and we stood staring gruffly at them. Changes in a local one way system had turned our little dead end road into a bit of a rat run and a glorified turning area. But as I say, most drivers paused to enjoy watching us play and rolled down their windows and were pleasant and encouraging.

We began to think about writing a fake street markings at the top of the road. ‘Slow down please, children playing’. We did something else in the end, but that is a story for another week.

The Hopscotch pigment recipe was shared with us by a community group in Seattle. They in turn had borrowed it from a group in Detroit. We first used it in a Mile Long Hopscotch around Mile End several years ago.

The Hopscotch pigment recipe was shared with us by a community group in Seattle. They in turn had borrowed it from a group in Detroit. We first used it in a Mile Long Hopscotch around Mile End several years ago.

The recipe for Giant Bubbles was researched by PATH and used in many events and more recently by Playkx in Kings Cross.

The recipe for Giant Bubbles was researched by PATH and used in many events and more recently by Playkx in Kings Cross.

Giant biodegradable balloons can be bought for about a pound each with a little online research. Take my advice and invest in a little rechargeable air pump.

Giant biodegradable balloons can be bought for about a pound each with a little online research. Take my advice and invest in a little rechargeable air pump.


The following was written by Mudchute Playworker, Penny Wilson

The sun still shone done on us for our doorstep Elevensies and the knot of people stopping by to chat to each other became a part of our new routines.

So had the Thursday clapping.

By the second Thursday evening we had become aware that the NHS staff still needed sufficient protection. We realised that the carers who looked after our community in their homes and in residential homes also needed more supplies. Their role was now being recognised as being as vital as any in society. The Home that my mum had spent her last years in had suffered huge losses because of Covid19. My brother and I thought of the delicacy of love and care that the staff had always shown her. How must they be feeling?

So our second Thursday clapping was vibrant and thunderous. NHS workers living in our street joined in too. It was a shout for fairness. An explosive expression of gratitude and a thing we could do together that seemed to make us feel stronger and bring us closer.

We needed it.

It was the beginning of us finding a street identity. We were a little tiny bit of the mass of cheering we could hear bouncing of the buildings and echoing down the deserted Main Street.

We felt, well, somehow, a sort of pride in ourselves. I had only found that in private, or small groups of people before. This was new.

Two young brothers who live a couple of doors up from me enthusiastically started the cheering and clapping. They scampered up and down the street, sort of unable to believe what was happening. One of them played his guitar to each house, a mini performance for everyone. We all felt a little lifted, elated by this Thursday.

story-of-our-street-3Several of us had made rainbows to put in our windows. These were tiny islands of daring colour that we hadn’t risked before. But they served their purpose, they became little defiant landmarks for passers by and neighbours. Another sign of our togetherness in the weirdness of this episode of our world.

The habit of Sunday music in our street made it to week two. We selected and shared music together and there was dancing and chatting and distanced closeness. This new tradition added another marker to our week.

Monday, and I was working in my basement. I looked out of the window, out onto the Area and up to the railings. There were some of my little neighbours looking down at me waving and shouting hello.
We were all excited by our new friendships.

The strangely empty street had been mocking me while I drank my doorstep coffee. And somehow an idea developed and took hold. If all the children were faithfully doing their school work at home, then what was missing was playtime.

So, by a consensus of neighbours, eleven o’clock became playtime.

I had the supplies that we needed.

We started to chalk on the pavement.

In those early days the children were tentative about asking permission.
‘May I draw a rainbow on the pavement, for the NHS.’
‘Yes, of course. And you can draw something just for yourself as well.’

Another new thing had begun.