(Bottom to top: Nicole, Jamie and Chris)
Let's Play Sandwell
You may think they’ve got a cushy role, but our Let’s Play project is much more than arts and crafts and a kick about in a local park. It’s about building bridges within disadvantaged communities and giving young people the chance to learn valuable new skills.
“The three of us all initially had the same challenge- gaining the trust of the people in the community who were sceptical about getting something for free”, said Nicole Emmanuel, who along with Jamie Bloomfield and Chris Kelly make up the Let’s Play Sandwell team, a project funded by Sandwell Council offering environmental activities aimed at children aged between 6-12 years old.
The three Community Project Officers have so far held over 250 free after-school play sessions in the parks and public spaces of Oldbury, Wednesbury and Tipton- some of the most deprived areas in the country.
“PVA glue and football games aside, our sessions are of true value to not only the youngsters in attendance, but the whole family. For the kids, as well as getting them up off the sofa and active in the great outdoors, they’re developing vital social skills, interacting and making friends.”
“For the parents, our sessions provide often needed respite in areas void of services. They pick up play ideas to try at home, and you also seem them talking to other parents and carers in the neighbourhood they wouldn’t normally- we’re really bringing the community together!”
A Day in the Life
Arrive at the Tipton office- check emails, register yesterday’s attendance and write up a session review- previous activities, what went well and what they would chance. This is a useful way of planning future sessions. Start planning- social media posts, upcoming venues, events, themes, and resources. The team also use this time to attend various town partnership meetings and ‘friends of’ groups.
Start loading the vans with equipment for the day’s sessions. Complete a risk assessment before setting off for today’s venue.
After meeting up with the supporting sessional member of staff, unpack and set up- depending on the theme, this could involve anything from basketball hoops to giant connect 4! Speak to local people (park wardens, shop keepers and PCSOs for example) to raise awareness of the session.
After another successful session, arrive back at the Tipton office to unpack before heading home.
Since launching in April, Let’s Play sessions have been attended by over 4,000 local children.
Nicole added, “One of the biggest challenges we face is keeping the activities fresh and exciting for the kids, but being in this role you have to be creative, and we love thinking of new ideas. For example, this week we’re turning old egg boxes into mini aquariums- it’s amazing what a little paint and glitter will do!”
The Let’s Play team also have to deal with another issue- the great British weather.
“I have recurring nightmares of a gazebo taking flight in a storm and blowing across the park, but so far that hasn’t happened! It can get a bit chilly, so plenty of layers is a must!”
“But working on this project is rewarding on multiple levels- seeing induvial growth in the children we get to know, and also providing something in area where there’s not much opportunity to participate in activities like this.”