‘I have a right to play too’
Written by Andrea Sysum
Torfaen Play and Short Breaks Services’ Play Policy Officer, Andrea Sysum, shares her experience of providing inclusive community play provision all year round – and how you can make it work too.
Within Torfaen, we foster, support and indeed champion every child’s right to play. As a result, we have also developed a holistic model of practice to ensure that we can provide support to nearly 200 families each year with children and young people with disabilities. However, inclusive play provision in Torfaen didn’t just happen overnight, it’s a model that has grown and developed over a 15-year period.
When I first started volunteering with Torfaen Play in 2004, inclusive play provision was taking place but only within the summer playschemes. The summer play provision at this time could only provide support for around 15 to 20 children with moderate to low level additional needs. The main reasons for this was lack of funding and lack of experienced staff to provide the inclusive support.
Progressively, we have chipped away at the barriers to inclusion to develop a successful model of practice through working closely with parents and carers and like-minded professionals. By now we are in a position where we can provide support to a large amount of complex families. Additionally, we can now support children and young people with complex health needs and profound disabilities. Support isn’t just provided in the summer holidays, it’s provided all year round during half terms, Christmas holidays, weekend sessions as well as weekly play clubs.
So how have we done this? Well, it hasn’t been easy and it takes a lot of hard work! Having the right attitude is definitely essential when it comes to inclusion. A ‘can do’ or ‘glass half full’ approach is the key ingredient to make your inclusive play provision successful. More importantly though, the model has worked because the people pushing the agenda forward haven’t accepted the barriers that have popped up and tried to cloud our success.
Getting everyone on board is also important. Gather support from professionals who can help you. Link together to share information, support and resources. Build your support from Elected Members and Town and Community Councils. Additionally, start a focus group for parents and carers to share information, resources and fundraise.
We use both volunteers and paid workers to provide support. Our volunteering programme has been running for 15 years. We are now at a point where we don’t need to advertise for volunteers as it has become embedded within the growing up process of young people in Torfaen. Around 150 young people each year sign up to volunteer.
Why do they do it you may ask? Well, we really look after our volunteers and provide them with valuable experience that equips them with key skills for the future. All volunteers complete an in-depth training week and are supported to achieve two accredited qualifications.
Finally, to provide inclusive play provision you must be prepared to be flexible. To be able to adapt and change environments to meet individual needs. A round peg will not fit in a square hole!