Dr Wendy Russell, Tom Williams, Dr Stuart Lester, Hilary Smith, Dr Malcolm MacLean


The project ‘Sharing memories of adventure play’, which was part-funded by the Being Human Research Priority Area at the University of Gloucestershire, held a film premiere and exhibition event on 27 January which was attended by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor/Sheriff of Gloucester.

The project worked with adventure playgrounds in Bristol and Gloucester to gather memories of those involved as children, staff, families and communities, over their history, in order to explore their value. It drew on concepts from post-qualitative research methodologies, memory studies, geography, philosophy and policy, developing a ‘critical cartography’ approach as a different way of articulating the value of adventure playgrounds in ways that can be used to inform future policy. There is plenty of evidence showing the benefits of play for children, less showing the benefits of play provision. What does exist tends to show the instrumental value of adventure playgrounds and playwork in terms of its capacity to address social policy concerns such as reducing physical inactivity and obesity, crime reduction, or community cohesion.  These are important, and at the same time the desire to show measurable benefits in this way obscures other ways of expressing value. We used performative, creative and non-representational methods, both in terms of process (data co-production and analysis) and artifacts (artists’ drawings, video, exhibition). Our approach to working with memory was to see it as always relational, emerging in an ever-changing form from an embodied and embedded relationship with the world. Minds and bodies are always mixed up in a tangled web of connections and disconnections: places, feelings, histories, the here-and-now, other people, material objects and so on.

These methods brought to the fore the singular and rich stories that showed just how much these spaces mattered to people as spaces for play and for being a little different in and with the world and much more besides. What many people also talked about was how safe they felt there, how they could be themselves, how the adults were accepting and caring. What emerged from the stories were the rhythms, moods, habits, rituals and routines that enabled children and adults to navigate and negotiate their way through the playground and keep a playful atmosphere alive.

Film, exhibition and short report:

We held events at each of the playgrounds and recorded these using video, audio and the work of artists. From these we have produced a film, an exhibition, launched at an event at the University of Gloucestershire on 27 January 2017, attended by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor/Sheriff of Gloucester. There is also a short report.

For more information, visit here