Jon Winder, play guru

26 Oct
Everyone has a story, but how in Islington do we help our children explore so they have stories to share too? Here’s how council officer and new dad Jon Winder is keeping kids in Islington happy. Q&A by Nicola Baird. Reblog below from Love Outdoor Play.

Spa Fields, EC1 den: you can make a den for playing back at home too with an upturned chair, under a table or a blanket/sheet over a sofa.

Some questions for Jon before he tells us what’s what…

Q: Do you have children (if so ages)?
Yes, 6 months old

Q: Why does Islington need someone working on play?
It’s so important for children living in cities to have access to good places to play. As streets and private spaces have become less child-friendly, it has become more important for parks and open spaces to be really good places to play. I’ve worked in parks for a number of years and get a great sense of achievement when we improve a playspace and see it really busy with children having lots of fun!

Follow the path: you can’t miss a purple bark trail.

Q: How much are you able to consult kids, or is it mostly adult consultation?
We try to engage children in our projects as much as possible. At the very least we talk to children about how they like to play, but often we also involve them in design workshops, model making sessions, and play days in parks so we can see how they use a space. It can be difficult balancing the need for children and young people to play freely with adult attitudes about how public space should be used.

Q: What do you think of slacklines/climbing walls/outdoor table tennis/tree houses for Islington? Have you had a go on any of these things – if so maybe you could mark your own enjoyment level somewhere between one and ten (10 being the highest)!
You can find a climbing wall, outdoor table tennis tables and a tree house in Islington and I’ve had a go on all of them! I think my favourite is the tree house and it gets a 10/10. (Since this interview was written up the tree house in Arundel Square, N7 has been vandalised, story in Gazette, story in Tribune).

Q: How long have you worked with Islington council?
5 years

Q: Do you live in Islington or have any family connection to it?
I would love to live in Islington but I can’t quite afford it…

Here’s the text Jon wrote for the blog Love Outdoor Play (first published on 31 August 2012). Hope you enjoy it – and also during half-term, holidays and weekends stumble across some of the activities he mentions that are going on around Islington’s parks and playgrounds.

With the least amount of open space of any local authority in the country you might think that Islington isn’t a great place for playing outdoors. However, over the last few years the council has been working hard to make parks and open spaces better places to play.

With 56 formal play areas there are plenty of opportunities to play on traditional equipment like swings, climbing frames, zip wires, water features and slides. Our busiest play area, Highbury Fields, N5 received nearly half a million visits in the last year.

In 2011 we drafted a Greenspace Play Strategy to help shape our approach to play in parks and open spaces. The strategy stresses the importance of providing a wide variety of play experiences both in play areas – and beyond – and recognises that exposure to risk is an essential part of play provision. We are also working with other teams in the council to develop a council-wide Risk in Play policy that will formalise our use of a risk-benefit approach to managing risk in play.

But far more exciting than the strategies are the changes that have been taking place in parks. With London Play and Monkey-Do, we ran training sessions with our park managers, rangers, apprentices and park keepers in the art of installing temporary tree swings. Swings have popped up in parks across the borough and they have been hugely popular. The installation at Whittington Park, N7 was so successful that a more permanent tree swing has now been installed.

We’ve also been working hard to create more and better play opportunities outside of formal play areas and increased opportunities to interact with nature. A tree house climbing structure has been installed, long grass areas have been developed, felled trees have been kept in parks as informal play structures, exploratory trails have been opened up into planting areasden building sessions have taken place with help from Islington Play Association and the number of play-focused events has expanded significantly.

There might not be much space for playing out in Islington but the parks and open spaces we have got are becoming far more exciting places to play.

Over to you

What do you think of  the play spaces for children in Islington? Come on kids – speak up too. Where are your favourite places to go? By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know. Thank you. And yes, this blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

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