Laura Harrison Playworker

I never thought playwork would be the career I would end up in; to be honest, I didn’t even know it was a career until 6 years ago I started working at Baltic Street Adventure Playground, a child-led adventure playground in the East End of Glasgow. I was a circus performer, a clown, an acrobat and a stilt walker and suddenly I’m working in this crazy outdoor adventure playground in the East End of Glasgow with mucky weans, a growing collection of animals, a community of parents, grandparents, locals and a staff team of dedicated, passionate adults (who are definitely still children at heart).

I quickly learnt that the playground is first and foremost a play space but, for those who come here, it is also much more than that. It’s a haven for many of the children, a place where they are guaranteed a hot meal and space to be their true selves, a luxury many are not permitted in their home and school lives. It is a safe space that belongs to children and is made by them and by past generations of young people, many of whom are elder siblings, cousins and family friends. The playground is integral to the local community and gives the children the freedom to build and destroy, win and fail, laugh and cry, always with support and love from the staff and volunteers.

My typical day at Baltic Street doesn’t exist, every day is different, some days are calm and serene, other days are hectic and high energy. It’s one of the reasons I love this job so much, we never know who is going to walk through the gate, what they’re going to want to do, what mood they will be in, and it’s our job as playworkers to embrace it all.

My official role is playworker responsible for animals and social media. When people say to not work with children and animals, I laugh because it’s the best combination I could wish for! I care for the animals and show the children how to care for them too, how to handle them, feed them, groom them. I have the privilege of seeing a child switch from wild play mode into a calm and responsible young person enjoying the company of an animal and then I get to take them back into the play space and bring them back to that wild play mode again. The social media aspect of my role allows me to capture these moments of play through photography and video, reflect in more depth on each aspect of play captured and present that online.

Playwork, to me, is the perfect balance between clowning, youth work and community development. We are encouraging children to learn:

  • practical skills, such as woodwork, gardening and animal care.
  • essential communication skills with each other and with the adults around them, how to ask for what they need, how to tell someone yes or no and how to deal with conflict when it arises.
  • risk management skills, knowing what they are comfortable doing, what scares them and whether they want to push through that fear or if that fear is justified and how to keep others safe too.
  • How to have fun and be their true selves without concerning themselves over the judgement of others
  • How to fail and for it to be ok to fail, just pick yourself back up and try again.
  • How to explore the world creatively in whatever way speaks to them most, whether that’s through building structures to play with, using visual arts to capture an image of their world, playing or listening and dancing to music, and mostly using their imaginations in everything they do!

As a playworker I see it as my job to be unapologetically myself, to be honest and open, and to be serious and silly in equal measure. By doing these things, I give the children I work with permission to be all these things too.

In a society where children are encouraged to grow up at an ever-increasing rate, play spaces and playworkers provide the opportunities for children to just be children without the pressures, challenges and expectations of society. It is freedom.