Bernard Spiegal
Principal
PLAYLINK
72 Albert Palace Mansions
Lurline Gardens
London SW11 4DQ

29 November 2006

Dear Mr Spiegal,

CHILDREN’S PLAY PROGRAMME

Thank you for your further letter of 21 November about the Children’s Play programme.

Although my earlier letter answered the points you raise, I will take this opportunity to reiterate the rationale for the programme timetable.

As you know, the play sector has been waiting a long time for this funding. It was first pledged as a priority by the Labour Party before the 2001 general election, and we first announced our commitment to the programme in March 2005. I believe that this has given sufficient time to local authorities to develop play strategies, including giving them the option to bid to one of four application windows. In fact, the programme has allowed up to 18 months until the final application deadline in September 2007, which we believe is a reasonable and appropriate amount of time to develop play strategies.

As my earlier letter mentioned, we have had indications from both Play England and our survey that the majority of local authorities are working to this timeline. We want to keep this momentum going. In addition to Play England’s assistance in developing play strategies, we plan to provide further support to local authorities through our regional networks.

I am pleased that we are working towards a shared goal in ensuring that the focus and impact of the programme is not lessened and enhancing the value and status of Children’s Play.

STEPHEN DUNMORE

Bernard Spiegal
Principal
PLAYLINK
72 Albert Palace Mansions
Lurline Gardens
London
SW11 4DQ

10 November 2006

CHILDREN’S PLAY PROGRAMME

Thank you for your letter of 27 October about the Children’s Play programme.

The Children’s Play initiative is a key strategic intervention which will increase the recognition of play at a national level. Setting up Play England-an England wide support infrastructure for Children’s Play is an unprecedented development and will make a major long term difference to how play is recognised, supported and delivered in future. The three strands of this initiative complement each other to deliver something quite special, but it’s a challenge that the play sector needs to respond to.

As you know, one of the key aim of the Children’s Play programme is to promote the long-term strategic and sustainable provision for play as a free public service to children. Crucial to achieving this is the ability of local authorities to develop an appropriate local play strategy and to embed it within local plans and services.

The funding for play provision has been allocated to all local authority areas in England, not to local authorities. Therefore, partnership working is central to this programme. Whilst I appreciate your concern that it might sometimes be challenging for local authorities to engage with a number of stakeholders, we see this funding as a good opportunity to bring together local partners and organisations in planning for play.

Our programme is based on the recommendations of ‘Getting Serious About Play’, a national play review carried out under the chairmanship of Frank Dobson, MP. This review was published in January 2004. Following on from this, the Big Lottery Fund announced the programme in March 2005; this was two and half years before the final closing date for applications. The review recommended that there should be improved planning and partnership working at a local level and that local authorities should demonstrate their commitment by investing in developing good play strategies.

In November 2005, we wrote to all local authorities advising them of their allocations, the timing of the programme and requirement to produce a play strategy to access their area’s allocation. The programme was launched in March 2006 along with the guidance document Planning for Play. This was 18 months before the final application deadline of September 2007. I believe that we have given local authorities ample time to develop play strategies, and any change to the timescale, as you propose, will lessen the focus and impact that this programme is designed to achieve.

We appreciate that some of the local authorities have been slow to respond and as a result there has been a shift in their application timescale. However, according to our recent survey, the majority of authorities will be applying to the third application window in March 2007 and not the final one, which confirms our view that the timelines under this programme are reasonable and appropriate.

Play England’s regional support teams have already met directly with more than 80 per cent of local authorities. They too report a high level of activity and commitment to the programme. We remain confident that Play England’s strategic enabling programme will be able to provide as full a service as possible to support local authorities in developing quality play strategies within the timescales set for the programme.

I recognise that there have been some concerns about our capital requirements. In response to this, we have produced revised capital guidance for the programme. This is a simpler version and was sent to all local authorities on 25 October. We have also sent additional ‘Questions & Answers’ to all local authorities to help with some of the recent queries on the programme.
I hope that this clarification meets your concerns about the programme and hope that we can all work together to make a lasting difference to children’s play provision in England.

STEPHEN DUMORE

Green Spaces Magazine Article: Green Places - BIG play concerns

Key aims of the Big Lottery’s play programme include creating and improving free play opportunities. Good. It is, however, one thing to articulate desired ends, quite another to have a realistic sense of how they might be achieved. Understanding the connection between means and ends is part of the responsibility of any powerful purse-holder. This is doubly the case where money derived from the public is concerned, and where non-elected bodies, such as the Big Lottery, make decisions about funding elected ones – local authorities.

Like so many others, PLAYLINK welcomes in principle the BL play programme. Concerns are emerging, however, about how the programme is working in practice.

Many local authorities are only now grasping the substantial nature of the application requirements confronting them. Those tasks are to a great extent generated by the Big Lottery, seemingly with no appreciation of the context within which those requirements need to operate. Even those authorities that have well developed, knowledgeable and experienced play departments, and a play strategy – ones formulated prior to even a hint of the possibility of a BL play fund – report that the application process is needlessly convoluted and confused.

For those authorities, districts for example, with relatively limited funding allocations - £200,000 or thereabouts – that have traditionally seen their role as providing fixed equipment playgrounds (the emphasis on ‘fixed’ and ‘equipment’), they are now being asked to conjure up play partnerships, comprehensive play strategies, BL funding portfolios, all based on audit and consultations. In the land of cosy abstractions - management handbooks, guidance and toolkits – these requirements may make some sort of sense. Yet they are akin to works of fantasy for many of the authorities keen to secure play funding. Critically, the limited duration of the programme (two application dates left) force potential applicants to respond mechanistically, focusing on procedures not substance - the proverbial tick-box approach.

PLAYLINK works with others to change radically the way places for play are understood and created – see the Places of Woe: Places of Possibility online exhibition to get a sense of what we’re about. The play programme should represent possibility.

Again and again we find a desire to move towards a more creative practice, one grounded in what we know about children, young people, play and place making. To achieve this, time is needed to address fundamentals, to look again at hand-me-down assumptions, to tackle knotty issues: what is a good play place? How do we accommodate beneficial risk-taking in a risk averse culture? How do we – do we want to? – accommodate play within a shared public realm? Questions that cannot be addressed at a gallop.

Stephen Dunmore
Chief Executive
Big Lottery
1 Plough Place
London
EC4A 1DE
27 October 2006

Dear Stephen Dunmore,

Children’s Play Programme

Our purpose in writing is to share our very real concern that the Children’s Play Programme is in danger of undermining its own declared purpose - to create, improve and develop children and young people’s free local play spaces within a strategic framework. The immediate concern is that the programme’s duration is too limited leaving little or no time for authorities to think and act strategically, or create authentic forward-looking, sustainable partnerships. Critical to both, is the time required to explore and question an often extremely narrow understanding of play, and the time needed to develop and foster relationships.

PLAYLINK works to enhance and extend children and young people’s play opportunities. One aspect of our activity is working with local authorities and cross-sectoral groupings to develop play policies and strategies. Over ten years, we have worked with some 25 local authorities in this area, currently engaging with six. PLAYLINK, with the Free Play Network, has supported the play strategy development process by, for example, hosting a facilitated online discussion forum which, in a two week period, attracted some 5,000 hits. In addition, we have extensive informal links with councils and play providers.

The play programme is now approaching its final year with, effectively, two application dates remaining. The BL requirements, for example on capital bids, are onerous and, in our view, over-elaborate. Quite why a non-elected body, such as the Big Lottery, requires elected bodies - local authorities - to have to go through quite so many hoops to achieve capital funding is difficult to appreciate. Local authorities invariably have their own procurement protocols and not a small amount of experience in delivering capital projects.

Putting issues of principle to one side, the practical effect of requiring planning permission (where necessary) and a tendering process prior to application, means that there is necessarily a long lead-in time from conception to costed scheme. This, in our experience, creates pressure to propose projects that simply repeat the negative practices of the past rather than address fundamentals and thinking afresh.

This, combined with the time-consuming nature of developing a partnership-based play strategy - often in situations where there is no history of contact between different types of providers - has resulted in too many authorities feeling impelled to hurry though the BL application process in a mechanistic, backward-looking way.

In practice, many local authorities are only now grasping the substantial nature of the task that confronts them. Those tasks are substantially generated by the Big Lottery, seemingly with no appreciation of the context within which they are required to operate. Even those authorities that have well developed, knowledgeable and experienced play departments, and a play strategy - ones formulated prior to even a hint of the possibility of a BL play fund - report that the application process is needlessly convoluted and confused.

There are also questions about the authority and availability of advice to applicants. Play England is still in the process of establishing its infrastructure, and BL’s advice to potential applicants has been reported, too often, as being vague, confusing and therefore unhelpful.

Strategy development, must, if it is to be meaningful, address fundamental questions about the meaning of play, and what those meanings entail in practice. From this perspective, a strategic approach to play requires that knotty questions about values and meanings need to be addressed. This is not an academic exercise. Such considerations have a direct impact on the nature of play opportunities created. To identify two key issues: the relationship of risk to play in the context of authorities’ concerns about potential negligence claims; and, what constitutes a quality place for play? There is no easy consensus on these issues.

There are therefore two aspects to the difficulties being encountered:

  • the first, is the limited duration of the play grant programme that creates an unnecessary and artificial sense of urgency for potential applicants
  • the second, are the difficulties applicants and potential applicants have when attempting to engage with the Big Lottery.

Some at least, perhaps all, of the negative aspects of the current position could be countered by simply extending the duration of the programme, for at least a year, better still, two. As important, such an extension would help create the context for the development of more considered, creative and sustainable approach to play. We believe that this position would attract support.

This letter will be circulated to Lead Officers for play and will be posted on the PLAYLINK web site.

A hard copy of this letter has been posted.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Bernard Spiegal
Principal
PLAYLINK
cc Adrian Voce, Play England

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London, UK

72 Albert Palace Mansions, Lurline Gardens SW11 4DQ

020 772 02452

info@playlink.org