2022 marks the 40th anniversary of the Playground, so we thought we'd share some of our story and history. So many people have come through our doors, so many stories, so many lives touched.
What began as a simple idea by some local volunteers has grown into a cornerstone of community life in Evesham and beyond - and will hopefully continue to grow and thrive for many years yet.
When the new Woodlands estate was built in the late 1970s, it left over 70 children with no play area within the new development.
An action committee was formed by local parents, who ran holiday playschemes and looked for a space for a play area to be built. It was a difficult time, with no identified space available.
After more houses were buit, a piece of land on an open space was identified and developed in the early 80s. The seeds of the Adventure Playground were planted.
The Evesham Adventure Playground Action Group was formed after a group of parents visited a number of playspaces in London. A visit to one adventure playground stuck in their heads, with a young playworker (obviously the worse for wear) sitting outside the gates smoking, with lots of children playing inside. The parents agreed that they could do much better: 'if they can do it, surely we can!’.
The group was formed and the land identified - with the help from fundraisers and a Quaker Workcamp, the site was enclosed with a fence. Next came a scout hut from Winchcome, which was taken down and re-erected on site, with workers sourced through a government initiative to create paths and landscaping.
Funding was also found from the district to employ a ‘playworker’ to engage children, adults and the community to develop and ‘own’ the site. The plans were simple: let the children play and develop their own spaces with little interference from adults. The gates were open after school and during the holidays, staffed by one full time worker, and the good will of a number of volunteers.
Some of the volunteers. with help from the playworker, started a parent and toddler group - they went on to train as playgroup leaders and a playgroup started in our wooden scout hut. Carnival and bonfire night were big fundraising events, along with Evesham fun run and impromptu barbeques.
Evesham Adventure Playground was taking shape.
As we entered our second decade, funding and staffing were becoming problems in an expanding operation.
New, specialist part-time staff were brought in to help spread the workload. New fundraising avenues opened up, the site filled with structures, out-of-school and 'back into school' programmes were started.
Eventually, we realised we needed something more permanent, and work began on the Four Pools Community Centre.
A decade that began with some familiar themes: a recession, high interest rates, inflation, rising unemployment. Funding was becoming a problem for the Playground - simply looking to keep the place open was taking up lots of Committee time, which meant staff problems as people were spread too thinly.
We took on a group of part-time 'specialists' - including arts, environmental science and sports - who worked to provide opportunities for children to take part in activities after school and during school holidays.
The site was filling with structures, skateramps, climbing walls, children and animals! Kids took part in regional raft races, we camped in Wales and had the largest bonfire and firework event Evesham had seen.
We also raised funds for a multi-sports pitch - which also provided funds for an admin worker and space for groups to play football.
We started running one of the first out-of-school schemes in the country, picking up from all local schools and looking after children while parents finished work. We also obtained funding to start a programme to support young people to get ‘back into school’ after extended exclusions or school refusal - the beginnings of our Alternative Provision.
Because of lots of use by the local community - mums and toddlers, playgroup, band practice, out-of-school scheme, 'back into school' project - it was decided to look at building a purpose built centre: the Four Pools Community centre.
Children made plastic moulded teddies (Four Pools Freddie) and sold them for the fronts of cars; a six foot plywood teddy climbed the three peaks; people jumped out of 'planes; we applied for grants from wherever we could. Finally, we had around half of the funds needed.
By 1995, the ground was broken and a new era began with the first phase of the centre.
A decade of change – key staff came and went, improvements were made to the building and surroundings, significant alterations made to the services provided.
An earlier pattern begins to become the norm: funding was still tight, with significant reliance on volunteers and donations, which is now the default for the Playground. Grants and donations help with capital projects, but operating expenses remain an issue.
We began our third ten years with some new fixtures at the Playground: Out of School club was now embedded into the playground, and the Credit Union opened up on site. We set up and ran a resource centre, collecting waste materials to reuse as play materials – so, wood and concrete blocks, guttering and windows, roofing materials and ropes.
As always, funding was a challenge, with few sources of revenue to help pay for everything we wanted - or needed - to do. Having third parties on site at least spreads the burden, and so – when the Credit Union moved to Worcester – we welcomed Working World into our Portakabin instead. Capital projects can be unlocked with grants, but paying to run things needs a steady income stream. Arguably, during this time, the focus of the Playground was more on finance and funding than it was on people, which really wasn’t what we wanted.
Dave Boucker – who’d been there from the start, a familiar face to everyone who’s ever used the Playground – decided that it was time to move on. New staff came and went in his place; during the following period of uncertainty, Out of School was closed and replaced with an outside group, and the on-site animals were all re-homed, and the emphasis shifted more to events than “business as usual” services.
With the help of additional external funding, the multi sports pitch was resurfaced, we refurbished the kitchen and toilets in the main building, and we sorted out the car park.
We established a special needs youth group and employed focused staff to support it. The seeds were now firmly planted for the Playground to become more of what you see today.
The one constant for us has always been change. Our fourth decade saw the Playground become what it is today, yet that means we're simply stretched further in terms of providing what we need to do for the local community.
Bicycle recycling, After School, Playschemes, Alternative Provision, the Community Pantry, Youth Club, changes to how the hall and outbuildings are used: the current core team of staff and services takes shape.
As we entered our fourth decade, many of the aspects of the current Playground - staff, services, buildings - took shape.
During this period, Dave returned part-time to the team, bringing a change in focus more towards environmental issues and sustainability.
The services offered became pretty much what we do today. We restarted our in-house Out of School club and Playschemes; we began celebrating National Play Day and other events; we formalised an Alternative Provision offering in place of our Special Needs youth group; Working World moved on, and the Portakabin instead became home to Playground Peddlers, our bicycle refurbishment and recycling scheme; with the generosity of local suppliers and retailers, we opened the Community Pantry to provide much-needed help for people who are struggling to put food on the table.
We successfully tapped into several sources of funding to refurbish the site, fit solar panels, buy our electric van, make needed repairs, and generally expand the facilities on site.
So, as we enter our fifth decade - where are we, and what next?
The Climate Crisis remains at the top of our minds, and we're looking for further ways to embrace an all-electric, renewable, low- or zero-carbon future.
Finances remain tight, so we need to find better, more sustainable ways to fund the Playground. Demand for our services increases, especially given current economic conditions, yet costs go up while donations are squeezed at the same time.
The story of the Playground has always been one of doing the best we can for everyone with very limited resources. You can see in the stories above that we've always struggled for funds, yet we've always kept going: this has been our story, and it will remain the case.
So, that's our starting point, but where are we going?
Our immediate plans include trying to deal with the rocketing costs of energy while addressing the climate crisis. We already have one electric van, but would like to do more here; we're actively using the bike bus to avoid out-of-school diesel miles as much as we can; we're looking again at solar power generation (PV) and storage, investigating grey water reuse, ways to reduce our dependency on heating oil. We also need to do some significant work on the hall - we're refitting the kitchen with some donated equipment, we need to refurbish the toilets, we're looking to upgrade the electricity supply to three-phase (better both for EV charging and commercial kitchen equipment), and we'd like to improve the car park layout and use of the multi-sports pitch.
The Community Pantry continues to expand, so we need to find ways to enhance that: staff it better, make sure everyone gets a fair share, look for new supply sources. There is a constant need for Alternative Provision in the county, so we need more people who can help with this. Our bike recycling scheme has grown to fill an entire corner of the site, so there's inevitably more work there to improve how we operate - and, yes, we can even take credit cards there now!
The One Show, BBC Two, 28th June 2022. Used with permission.
We are, of course, always in need of further help. If there's anything you think you could do - join the Committee, donate materials or funds, volunteer your time - please, get in touch.