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Season 3, Episode 17:
Navigating Risk and Adventure Playgrounds 

Guest: Tom Williams
Founder of Woodland Tribe


Marina Robb

Hosted by: Marina Robb

Tom Williams

Tom Williams is the founder and co-director of Woodland Tribe and also the Business and Service Development Manager at Eastside Community Trust and has been a tireless advocate for adventure play throughout his life.

Tom played at Deptford Adventure Playground as a boy before enjoying a free range childhood in Mid Wales. In 1987 he joined the London Adventure Playground Association (LAPA) training scheme. He worked on adventure playgrounds in Cardiff, London and Bristol before becoming Play Officer for Bristol City Council in 2002. Tom was Play Officer for Bristol for 11 years from 2002 – 2013.

As well as managing 5 adventure playgrounds he was responsible for Bristol’s Lottery Funded Play Programme. With his adventure play background Tom’s approach was to view Bristol city as a large adventure playground, where the play ideas developed on adventure playgrounds could be reproduced for children in the public realm, spreading the ‘magic’ that is adventure play.

He started play rangers in parks, closed the first streets primarily for play, came up with the concept for loose parts containers in school playgrounds (Playpods), and managed a play participation and inclusion team.

Tom started Woodland Tribe in 2013. Tom’s idea had been inspired by visiting adventure playgrounds in Copenhagen, Berlin and Hamburg where playworkers were still allowing children to build their own playgrounds on a large scale.

In the last 10 years the phenomenon that is Woodland Tribe has grown and grown. The concept is now one of the most popular activities for children and families at UK festivals - Shambala, Camp Bestival, Glastonbury, Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe festivals, Standon Calling, Elderflower Fields and many more.

The Woodland Tribe ‘Big Build’ is often the centre piece of a festival and is a chance for children to literally work like ants for 3 days building their own adventure playground or play sculpture.

Woodland Tribe have also brought their child-led builds to art galleries including the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in 2022, Compton Verney 2019-2023, Barber Institute of Fine Art 2022-2023.

Tom is also a senior manager at Eastside Community Trust in Bristol and manages Felix Road Adventure Playground and Easton Community Centre.

Check out the award-winning Freedom Kids Podcast that Tom helps produce. Tom lives in Gloucestershire with his wife Helen Hardaker, two dogs and three grown up children.

Colin Ward argued in 1961 that adventure playgrounds represented a potent example of a ‘free society in miniature’, offering, as they do, concrete examples of both built and social structures created entirely from the bottom up.

Title: Anarchy in Action

Author: Colin Ward

Source: PDF from https://libcom.org/files/Ward_-_Anarchy_in_Action_3.pdf and MediaWiki version from https://anarchyinaction.org/

Notes: First published 1973 by George Allen & Unwin Ltd. This edition, with a new introduction, published by Freedom Press 84b Whitechapel High Street London E17QX 1982, reprinted 1996. ISBN 0 900384 20 4. In Memory of Paul Goodman 1911 — 1972

In this episode Marina and Tom talk about: 

  • The concept of freedom in childhood and how it’s hijacked!
  • The philosophy of adventure playgrounds
  • How children are incredibly good at doing their own risk assessments
  • How overprotection is damaging
  • The impact of the cost of insurance
  • And so many more interesting ideas to contemplate!

Music by Geoff Robb: www.geoffrobb.com 

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(transcribed by AI so there maybe some small errors!)

Tom Williams: In the UK in the last 30 years, we became obsessed by children's safety. And, you know, that was, you know, for legitimate reasons. There were some very high-profile cases. But actually, we're over protecting children. We're, you know, we're wrapping children in cotton wool. You know, the UK is bottom of the UN Child Welfare League table. Not because we're harming children, but we're over protecting children, you know, when we're not giving them the freedom within their childhood that they're experiencing in many other countries, particularly Scandinavian countries where they understand that importance.

Marina Robb: Hello, and welcome to The Wild Minds Podcast for people interested in health, nature based therapy and learning. We explore cutting edge approaches that help us improve our relationship with ourselves, others and the natural world. My name is Marina Robb, I'm an author entrepreneur for a school outdoor learning and nature based trainer and consultant, and pioneer in developing green programmes for the health service in the UK. 

You're listening to Episode 17 ‘Navigating Risk and Adventure Playgrounds’. Welcome back to Season 3. Thank you to all my listeners from around the world. I have some great conversations lined up for you this season. We'll be covering adventure playgrounds, democratic education, decolonization and reframing Darwin's evolutionary theory, as well as a special podcast on spirituality for Christmas Day, there's going to be a good season.

For this episode, my guest today is Tom Williams, the founder and co-director of woodland tribe, and also the business and service development manager at Eastside Community Trust in Bristol. Tom has been a tireless advocate for adventure play throughout his life, we're going to dive into the long history of adventure playgrounds, and how attitudes to risk have changed over the last 40 years. This is a passionate conversation that helped me to imagine a society we could create. It made me think about how freedom and responsibility are both necessary and lead to huge personal and collective benefits, as well as the real struggles of running a charity and getting insurance for more risky experiences.

Welcome to Wild Minds, I'm really happy to be speaking to you, Tom Williams, because I've been thinking for quite a long time about adventure playgrounds and all kinds of things. I'm really excited to have you on the show. And thank you for coming and giving up your time in such a busy period.

Tom Williams: Oh, yeah, it's lovely to be here. And yeah, looking forward to an interesting conversation. 

Marina Robb: Yeah, thank you. I always like to start with gratitude. So, I'm going to kick off and I was thinking about our conversation that we're going to have. And I wanted to say, actually, I'm really grateful for periods in my life, where I've been able to have this feeling of freedom, where I felt like I didn't have to just show up somewhere at, you know, seven in the morning or nine in the morning, and I could actually have time off an hour. And yeah, and I'm really grateful for that. Because I recognise that not everybody's had that opportunity. And I got that opportunity quite a few times in my 20s, particularly. So, I'm, I'm grateful for that. And I think that's going to have a bearing on this conversation a little bit. So how about you got any grab for us?

Tom Williams: I don't, yeah, no, I think that's really interesting. That kind of concept of freedom, particularly in childhood is something that I've been thinking about a lot recently, and how the word freedom has been kind of hijacked a little bit by the kind of libertarian rights and how we can, yeah, particularly when it comes to children, how we can kind of, you know, reposition freedom for what it means, you know, to many of us, you know, you know, lots of values, important for children to be free and have the freedom to do what they want in their childhood because it's very short. So yeah, that's, that's, that's what I'm thinking about.

Marina Robb: Have you got any gratitude Though and in this moment for yourself or for anything,

Tom Williams: I'm kind of like thankful for being really busy. And, you know, lots of people interested in Woodland tribe. And we are in the middle of our, you know, really busy season of the and yeah, and we just get so much kind of, you know, amazing feedback from children, particularly children, all the events that we've been in, and they're kind of their gratitude for what we're doing for them and our gratitude for letting them letting you know them letting, sharing that kind of experience that they're having with us. Yeah, gratitude is overflowing in that situation.

Marina Robb: Thank you. Well, that's a good place to jump in, I think because one of the reasons why I got in contact with you is because I in the last few years have been kind of going to some festivals or I have colleagues that have told me about woodland tribe actually, and what my direct experiences have been outdoors and I've come across these incredible space spaces where I ended up looking and seeing like children and adults with saws and hammers and nails.

And I think this was your word, but I'm gonna steal it ‘shonky kind of built’ not in not building because it's made out of wood, isn't it reclaimed and recycled wood? And I'm thinking, wow, this looks, this looks really exciting. But it also looks a little bit dangerous. But so before we jump in, I What, what is woodland tribe, I guess, and what are you doing in those spaces? Just tell us a little bit about that. And I imagine that might lead us on to a bit about adventure playgrounds, which I'd also be really interested to find out about and I don't think a lot of people know about that either. So yeah, what is this woodland tribe thing when I come across it?

Tom Williams: So woodland tribe is just about to celebrate its 10th Birthday Shambala. It's an idea that I started 10 years ago, I'd worked on Adventure playgrounds managed adventure playgrounds was obsessive about adventure playgrounds, but I just felt it wasn't being kind of broadcast to a wider audience.

So when Shambala said to me, we've got this word, but we don't know what to do with it. I said, Ah, I've had this idea for 20 years, I don't know if it will work. But I'd like to let you know 100 children be building all at the same time. And we'll need a huge quantity of word. And it's going back to the original philosophy of adventure playgrounds of letting children build. And so from there 10 years ago, it just really captured the public's imagination, the feedback we were getting was amazing people family saying this is what we want in our lives, you know, whether it's compensatory for kind of digital culture, but that kind of hands on creating and freedom actually freedom to do whatever they build whatever they wanted within the space was really important.

And we kind of went from there 10 years ago to, you know, maybe our horror hiatus, the Tate Modern Turbine Hall last Easter, where 14,000 children came and built, you know, adventure playground structures over the course of 18 days, and what we're trying to do with Woodland tribe is promote adventure play as a popular culture. In the UK, we want adventure play and adventure playgrounds to be as popular as Forest School that kind of use an example. And that is our mission. And so, you know, we're trying to protect the existing adventure playgrounds and support them that are disappearing all the time. You know, we had over 300 in the UK 20 years ago, we're probably down to about 80 or 90 now so and nobody knows about them.

They're tucked away in inner cities. Nobody knows about adventure playgrounds. Nobody knows about adventure play and yet it is this kind of worldwide movement that's been going for 80 years. So that is woodland tribes mission to promote adventure play to a wider audience.

Marina Robb: Yeah, and I I agree with you, I think it flavour of the last few years is definitely seems at least in my echo chamber in my world is about forest schooling. And I agree, I don't think a lot of people know about adventure playgrounds, though, as you said, it's been going on for so long. So why? Why do you think so? Why do you think it's so important? I mean, that's another big question. But before I go there, I wanted to kind of go back to that image of me seeing these children with sores and making things. And actually, this idea of wildness, after all, this podcast is called the wild mind podcast.

And I think, from a lay person, I'm looking on that scene, even though I love this sense of, you know, being able to use my hands being able to use perhaps dangerous tools and so on. But, but there was a sense of wildness and I guess, as well gets, word gets misused a lot. Right? So what do you think about what is it? Is it wild? Are these children wild? Are they expressing something innate that needs to be expressed? What do you think about that?

Tom Williams: I think there's definitely an element of wildness about, you know, the building that they do. And we encourage that, I mean, a lot of people ask us about the name. And you know, I created the name for Shambala for a festival area. But the reason it's called woodland is because it was based in a woodland and woodlands are great places for children to play.

The word tribe is like a tribal view of childhood, which is a kind of socio-cultural perspective, within academic circles on childhood. And the tribal view of childhood is very much kind of like Lord of the Flies, it's those children. On the other side of the railway, railway line playing without adults in attendance, you know, within that kind of concept of a childhood, where children are in control, where, where adults are there, some people might say, that's wild, I don't think that's wild, or, you know, I think it's giving children freedom and creativity.

I mean, the other thing to say is that children are incredibly careful, they're incredibly good at making risk assessments themselves, when you give them the responsibility of tools to build, you know, they take that responsibility very seriously. And, you know, they're, they're almost kind of more careful than us, they're putting in the kind of safety rails that we don't think are necessary. And then, and then I think the kind of the third thing is that there's this affordance, when you let children build their own playground, when you let children build their own space, there's this thing called affordance, which, again, is an is an academic term, and it's an emotional attachment to space. And when you let children build that space that affordance is amplified, like beyond measure.

Children don't want to leave the space because they have this emotional attachment for that. And that is something that I don't see, you know, in mainstream society, you know, that, you know, children having that strong emotional attachment to space. I see it on Adventure playgrounds, but nobody knows about them, you know. And, and so yeah, some people might think it's wild. And there is, you know, an element of kind of giving children freedom. But there are so many benefits from that process that we don't necessarily understand or our, or our thinking through as a society when we let children do those things.

Marina Robb: Yeah, well, because I listened to some of the feedback from young people on a video that I'm going to put in the show notes that that was all about Felix Road, which is another which is an adventure playground that I understand that you're closely connected with in Bristol, and they were saying things like, I can express myself I feel free I feel this is a community space I get to decide what I do.

I can come here when I need to I'm releasing energy you know, different people were saying different things and I I had a real strong sense of the multiple benefits that they were speaking to that that is that I couldn't imagine they would have that anywhere else and also seeing images. And this is only looked at it this week, but images of I think it was some Arabic music and these young people bringing their speakers and dancing and having a laugh and other people from different ages, different backgrounds kind of joining in, and then they were sharing food.

And yeah, I was, I was actually quite emotional as I often am when I when I think about these things, because I felt it was, well, it's just very unusual to see that those kinds of spaces and, and also that idea of ownership that you said ownership, inclusion, welcoming, bringing all those parts of ourselves. And yeah, you also I saw things like that they are they might have a Fallout or they might, you know, of course, argue but then they'll solve it. You know? So, there's a lot in in that, that, for the first time, you might think, oh, that's wild. What are they meeting? Again, we could we could, we could go under and think, Oh, what is wild but, but I'm still you know, that thing, when we see things for the first time, we don't really get a chance to look under and actually see almost like the multiple stuff strings, strings, if you like or ropes that are being pulled that have multiple effects that are really something else actually.

Tom Williams: Yeah, no, I totally agree there are there is so much kind of complexity going on within an adventure playground and Felix Road I've managed for 25 years, it's just such a great example of an adventure playground, in in in so many different ways. And you know, if you have a socio-cultural view of childhood, you see play as children's culture, in the kind of broad sense. And so when children are kind of playing an adventure playground, they are producing and consuming their own culture. And if you just see it in that very kind of, like broad way, almost anything is possible, you know, you know, an adventure playground becomes a place of possibility for children, to express themselves and to be kind of cultural beings. And yeah, that that is why adventure playgrounds are so unique,

Marina Robb: I think, within society. But I often try and ask that question, why is that? Why is that important in this day and age that they have possibility that they have imagination? And I obviously have my own thoughts about that. But would you speak to that? Why in your 40 years experience of being part of this movement? And your doesn't sound like you're slowing down? What is? Why? Why really, do you think names some of the things that may not be so obvious to me to listeners? What, Why, why are these things important?

Tom Williams: I mean, they're so important for so many reasons. And, you know, I've talked about culture, I could talk about community, you know, adventure playgrounds are sited within a community, they reflect the community that they're there in, you know, they are a place where community come together, not just children, but you know, adults and people of all ages.

Within inner cities, you know, there are fairies within kind of play in childhood that adventure, playgrounds are compensatory, you know, they're compensatory spaces for you know, the kinds of experiences I had as a child growing up in the countryside, where I could make a fire or build a tree house, you know, adventure playgrounds are providing that kind of purpose for children in a city environment. You know, there are so many different kinds of paradigms. You know, some people say that they're diversionary, you know, that diverting children and young people away from kind of antisocial or unexpected, unacceptable behaviour.

There can be kind of like transitionary spaces from, you know, primary to secondary school, because the majority of children who go to adventure playgrounds are in that transition, they're going out to play on their own without their parents for the first time, you know, so that, that kind of the, the benefits of adventure playground and like, play as a whole are so complex, and, you know, the outcomes are so there's so many outcomes, but there, there is a theory within the kind of the play sector that as soon as you start to try and measure children's play, you're actually you know, starting to kind of affect it and it doesn't become the thing that, you know, the children want it to be and you know, and so it's getting that kind of fine balance, you know, but weigh in freedom, creativity, as well as the same time kind of demonstrating impact. And you know, and thinking about why these spaces are so important to us?

Marina Robb: Yeah, I guess I'm always going to be asking the why. Because I think when you're in it can feel really obvious. But I think, knowing how like they, well, they have diminished, haven't they, there are less of them. So somebody somewhere or groups of people probably to do with our political situation, and different understandings have said, well, actually, that's not valuable, you know, some somewhere and there's going to be reasons for that. And it has diminished.

And I think it's important to capture as much as we can an understanding of why play why these spaces are so important, and why we should all be supporting them, you know, and I guess for me when because you say places of possibility.
And because I'm quite interested in the psychology of humans, that were possibility seems so important, that creative potential that idea, especially as we're living in so many crisis’s after crisis is this idea that if we can imagine, the possibility for me seems to be an opening for imagination that we can imagine something about ourselves or about the world we want to live in. That's different.

And again, when you describe what adventures playgrounds, provide, but also those images from that video, which I again, I will share, I thought this is huge, because we all get fed so much Doom, and not even just fed you know, so many people or so many moments in our lives, we experienced that. So to have spaces and the imagination, that things we can co create we can come together and do something that's beyond our wildest dreams or is possible the possibility feels really important because otherwise I feel we are stuck in this box and we only ever can create from our past if you know what I mean. That that I think it's I think it's there's loads of things.

Tom Williams: A lot of people talk about the sound of woodland tribe, the sound of 50 children, all hammering nails at the same time is a wonderful sound. And so many people comment on it, you know, if we're at a festival we might be in a woodland on the festival site and you can just hear this kind of Tink Tink Tink Tink Tink Tink Tink Tink Tink Tink teaching constant going on all day, it sounds like children are mining for you for something. And you know, and I think that sound is just, you know, like, a really positive sound of, you know, children, you know, making stuff.

Marina Robb: Yeah, exactly.

Tom Williams: We've no kind of like, you know, we've no kind of outcome except for their own kind of enjoyment in the here. And now. And that is really important. And, you know, we're very, we very much believe in the kind of temporary nature of adventure playground so that they can see that they're constantly changing. And we've woodland tribe, we're there for a weekend, and then we're gone. And temporary is good, because it means it can evolve, it can change, whereas permanence becomes fixed and rigid, and doesn't change.

Marina Robb: Yeah, and it doesn't reflect life as well. Because things do change. We keep constantly trying to fix things and believe that we're fixed both in our thinking in our everything that we do, isn't it in in modernity if you like, but actually, we're being shown time and time again that life is very uncertain. And how do we move with that?

Tom Williams: Absolutely. That's interesting. You know, because my, my tutors on my MA and kind of plan childhood, you know, talked about how uncertainty, the concept of uncertainty within Play is so important, you know, play is all about uncertainty. It's all about what if moments, what if we build a castle? What if there is a dragon in the castle? What if that dragon is a friendly dragon? You know, and so when children are playing, they're playing with uncertainty and embracing uncertainty. adults seem to struggle with uncertainty and want to kind of, you know, you know, take that out and control Yeah, But if you see uncertainty as a really, you know, beneficial thing and a playful thing that then then it's really good. Yeah.

Marina Robb: Okay, well, let's we can, I know we could talk for so much, so long and so, yeah, so many hours about this. But we have a situation where there are not many adventure playgrounds, they're also very few opportunities for children to play without being directed in some way. So what, why do you think that is? I mean, I know because you've got 40 years of experience, you've, though you will have seen changes over time. What do you think are some of the key drivers that are that are, I suppose, making it harder to enable this to happen? What do you think are some of them?

Tom Williams: I think, in the, in the UK, in the last 30 years, we became obsessed by children's safety. And, you know, that was, you know, for legitimate reasons, there were some very high-profile cases. But actually, we're over protecting children, we're, you know, we're wrapping children in cotton wall. You know, the UK is bottom of the UN, Child Welfare League table. Not because we're harming children, but we're over protecting children, you know, when we're not giving them the freedom within their childhood that they're experiencing in many other countries, particularly Scandinavian countries, where they understand that importance of freedom within childhood.

And so this kind of obsession with not, you know, keeping your children safe, protecting them from harm, is actually harming them. And so, you know, I think adventure playgrounds and woodland tribe, you know, we're trying to push back, that kind of that health and safety gone mad approach to children, you know, to give them there's opportunities to take risks that are beneficial. And, yeah, I think a lot of people understand that and appreciate it. But we're fighting against, you know, some, you know, very powerful forces that are trying to, you know, push the other way.

Marina Robb: Well, let's talk about that. Let's talk about that a little bit. Because I always advocate in health and safety, that I always say, Oh, look, everyone go and look at the Health and Safety Executive, because they've got a lovely quote, and they about, let's not wrap up our children and cotton Well, actually, you know, risk is good. So this is our health and safety kind of governing body of the UK. And yet, there are these forces. So what, what are some of those forces?

And let's give some examples of that. Because I actually think we need to talk about this. Because if these are serious barriers for something that we need to have in our society, we need to have for children, for ourselves, for our well being, for all the millions of reasons that we haven't even been able to talk about. Yeah, what, you know, what, what, speak to that a little bit.

Tom Williams: I think lots of people are understanding this and things have gone better in the last 10 years, there is a greater understanding around risk and benefit. But I think insurance companies in particular, who are a very important part of society, who are a very important part of the kind of play sector, do struggle with that kind of concept of risk and benefits.

And I think they're struggling so much that you cannot predict what their view is going to be on something that you want children to do. Sometimes they come down in favour, sometimes they come down against, you know, and that that is not helpful. And, you know, there are so many other kinds of different sectors that involve risk. It's not just the play sector, it's not just the adventure playground sector. It's not just forest schools. You know, if we think about the importance of risk in our lives, when we go horse riding, skiing, canoeing, rock climbing, you know, I could name so playing rugby playing sport.

There are so many kinds of like risky activities that are really important to us as the society it, but some we recognise as being acceptable risk, and some we recognise as being unacceptable risk. And so, you know, some might say giving children hammers and saws is unacceptable risk that we shouldn't be doing that. But would be absolutely fine with that with a child sliding down a mountain on a pair of skis.

And you know, and so a kind of nuanced understanding of risk, benefit, safety, the importance of these things in our lives, is we need to have that conversation as a society. And that includes government, it includes insurance companies, it includes professional sectors, and we've come a long way from where we were maybe 15 years ago, when it when it felt like we were just going completely in the wrong direction and over protecting our children.

Marina Robb: Yeah, I will, I've got some figures for you. Because I did a bit of research because as you know, from a previous conversation, I am concerned about insurance and how the cost of insurance can make it really prohibitive for so many people offering services experiences for young people. So I just because of that I wanted to say that. So I found out that last year 57 people died skiing and snowboarding, and of car fatalities. 1695 people died in 2022. And I, you know, I looked into this a bit, because I really wanted to see, okay, what are some of the stats, right? And at the same time, I'm part of the Forest School Trainers Network. And there's some nice links, which one of them which I'll put on the show notes as well about?

What are some of the accidents in our kind of sector, we're in a similar sector, right with whether it's for schools out outdoor stuff, outdoor learning and adventure playgrounds, and very few accidents have actually occurred in terms of forest schools. It's, it's somebody was burned by Kelly kettles 10 years ago. Okay. Now, I know that we are paying a lot of money for our insurance. Right? Not, I mean, you know, fair enough, to some degree, but not as much as you guys are paying in the adventure playground. Now, am I right? That there's some, you know, you could be paying as much as £12,000 a year to run an event playground, is that right? Or am I exaggerating? That?

Tom Williams: No, that's What we're currently paying and Felix Road and yeah, I mean, I could view statistics for accidents and fatalities on Adventure playgrounds, they're virtually non-existent, you know, the, accidents that take place are far less than the accidents that take place in parks, playgrounds, because the reason is that you have qualified play workers, they're supervising the children and, you know, carrying out that kind of risk benefit process. So yeah, sure, children are taking kind of more risks, but it's in a managed way, you know, where there are lots of other environments that aren't managed, where children, you know, might take unacceptable risks.

And yet it is the kind of, you know, it's places like adventure playgrounds that have that good record that are being charged extortionate, you know, insurance rates and are being closed down quite often for, you know, suppose it health and safety reasons. And, you know, and so, you know, a good friend of mine talked about it in terms of class, you know, that middle class and upper class children are allowed to take risks, they are allowed to go skiing, and ride horses. Whereas children in inner cities are not allowed to build their own play space, you know, what kind of society are we living in where, you know, where there is a disparity between children?

Marina Robb: I'm shocked. I mean, I'm, I am shocked and I am speechless at the same time, although I'm not one to not talk. So that's not entirely true, but I am I am genuinely shocked because you have to be told that you have to be you know, someone has to give you that information, to really allow a moment of a thought about what you just said, you know, what we've just shared is that £12,000 for an adventure playground in Bristol. You can go skiing and pay what is it? £150 insurance? Maybe £200? I don't know. Yeah. Wow. And how on earth I run a Community Interest Company, as you do, and I know you're managing over a trust, which provides this adventure playground. This is the voluntary sector, right charitable sector, that has to raise money to pay that to the insurers. And you've been incredibly generous, Tom, to kind of say, you know, it's a misunderstanding, and it's about education.

And you know, I didn't exactly say that. But I think that is generous. And I think fair enough, we need to come to the table. Absolutely. And we need to be having these conversations. And there are people that it is perhaps more ignorance rather than intention. But this is this is completely unacceptable. From my, you know, how it's unacceptable. And it's not a society that I think a lot of people out there, because I think most people out there, do want a fairer society, actually. But we just don't feel very empowered, right. But so I don't think a lot of people out there, I think a lot about people out there will be very, very shocked that you are providing a service, and you are having to find funds to pay insurance. I'm shocked.

Tom Williams: I had one insurance company and I'm not going to name them might have to back. But they compared the adventure playground movement to fish and chip shops. They said both facilities are high risk. And so they get passed around the insurance companies are you know that that's just ridiculous. You know, we don't have burning hot fat on Adventure playgrounds, children are just playing, you know, which is, you know, their right to do. And it feels like insurance companies are actually denying children their right to play by being over protective because they're still stuck in this dominant paradigm of, you know, children need to be protected.

Marina Robb: And I guess it comes back to that question again about, well, what's the risk if we don't let children play? If we don't support these spaces? What is the bigger risk? And I hear that? In education? I hear that in health, you know, what's the what's the, what's the alternative, where we're living a little bit of the alternative? But what happens when we don't provide these spaces, and everyone knows that your health is compromised? Your physical movement is essential for health. Millions and millions and millions of people out there are ill because they don't move enough. Right? So here, you've got a situation, we've got adventure playgrounds, you could you could justify it simply on the savings of health, let alone let alone anything else. Right. And again, we didn't really go there.

So I do get fired up. And I and I do think it's unacceptable. And I also think that I hope that there are people out there that can take that on and fight that corner, because I also want to name that when you're in the voluntary or charitable sector. You don't have the energy. You can't do it all. Do you know what I mean? You can't find all these corners. It's already enough to be trying to fundraise to provide a service, let alone have to go out and be, you know, an advocate. And so yes, we need to we need to have help. Don't we really help? Yeah.

Tom Williams: So the work that Tim Gill and Dr. David Ball did on risk benefit. In a roundabout kind of 2003 - 2005. I think it was that when they wrote the kind of risk benefit documents and they got Queen's counsel. And their argument at the time was this. They said health and safety executive is comparing a playground to a factory, and you know, implementing the same health and safety guidelines that you would have in a factory on a playground.

If you took a wobbly bridge, and you put it into a factory, this was their argument, it would be completely inappropriate. You don't want a wobbly bridge in a factory, put a wobbly bridge on a playground, and it becomes this, you know, this great play thing that children can play with. And so it's completely appropriate to have a wobbly bridge on a playground. And so let's stop looking and comparing the two facilities as though We can kind of manage them in the same way. Let's be more nuanced in our understanding of children's safety. Let's give them opportunities to take acceptable risk.

Marina Robb: Well, yeah, acceptable risk. It's a great word, isn't it? Because, again, in a cycle in this psychology and understanding that I haven't even said that, right? You know, you need to go to the edge of your comfort zone to learn, you need to go to the edge, to be able to experience new things and know that you can, and people want confident children, people want independence and all these things and creative thinking and problem solving. But you can't have any of that, if you don't go to that edge. And that edge will be different for different people at different times in their lives and different moments. And that changes and, and I guess I want to before, because before we have to end, which is not, it's too soon, already, but I do want to think about the role of the adult, because I'm interested that you actually did say, you know, hang on these people are qualified play workers. And, you know, I'm also involved in qualified for school practitioners. But though, I want to just ask a little bit more about that, because I know that there is an issue as well, when we over professionalise something. And I just want, if you wouldn't mind, just speaking a little bit about how you see that? What are some of the issues you see around that as well,

Tom Williams: I think that the play sector, you know, what I've seen how it develop in the last for 40 years, it did go down a professional route. And you know, that was linked predominantly to childcare to after school clubs and holiday play schemes. And, you know, I think that was the detriment of play work, and, you know, and the playwork principles, and then I think a similar thing happened within the youth sector as well, you know, and so a lot of the people who I saw, get into adventure playgrounds or get into youth work, because they had, you know, a natural ability, and that they wanted to work in their community and community was really important to them, you know, they then got pushed into doing qualifications that, you know, it's debatable whether it actually sort of benefited their practice and the communities that they were working in.

Having said all of that, that was a really, you know, I think there was there was an important phase, you know, under the last Labour government, where we started talking about Every Child Matters, and that agenda where play work suddenly became recognised for the first time and, you know, put on a kind of equal footing with social work teaching. And, and youth work as well. And, you know, I'd say if you kind of compare the kind of the systems that we have in the UK around play work, and youth work, and teaching and social work and compare them with the, you know, the more sort of petty, illogical approaches in Scandinavia, where people do a much longer qualification, and they have a greater understanding of childhood. And it's, you know, it's, it's pros and cons, and, you know, helping children kind of navigate that.

Yeah, we're a long way behind, definitely in the UK, because play work became a, you know, a profession to look after children, that benefits adults, you know, it doesn't particularly benefit children, you know, might do in, in small moments, but, you know, childcare is predominantly, you know, quite rightly or, you know, I'm not I'm not saying childcare is wrong, childcare is really important so that parents can go to work and pay taxes and those taxes can pay for adventure playgrounds, that's, that is my kind of take on it. But yeah, the understanding kind of play childhood, and you know, and children's rights within a kind of an economic system that works for us as a society that benefits both parents and children.

And there is that balance between having unique childhood experiences like woodland tribe, and parents being able to go to work. I actually think that's two different professions. Maybe you know, childcare is different from Um, you know, a play worker working on an adventure playground.

But you know, the idea would be like highly trained professionals who could understand all of that. But yeah, then the other thing is about, you know, adults within playgrounds, or adventure playgrounds, and the role of parents. And we, we always really like parents coming to Woodland tribe, because they understand their children far better than we do. You know, they know what their kind of possibilities and limitations are, you know, so they can either kind of let them go and, and set them free. Or they quite rightly provide that safety net under them, you know, that we maybe don't understand. And so that kind of co production of adults, children, families, building their own kind of playground together is a beautiful thing.

You know, it's, as Colin Ward said, it's like, you know, it's society in miniature going on, within a space. And, yeah, we don't want to push adults away. You know, we don't want to segregate children. I'm not sure if I believe in that kind of children on the other side of the tracks playing on their own. I think as a society, it's important that, you know, children and adults are, you know, interrelating, and doing things together and family status, the great thing about woodland tribe is, it is something that they can do as a whole family, we get the dads building the tree house that they either did or didn't have in their childhood. Dominant ignore, build and taking all the words. But then also, you know, we have quite young children really enjoying using tools for the first time.

Marina Robb: Yeah, I mean, there's lots of advantages by having parents there, because also you extend the relationship beyond that moment. So first, you get memories together, you also get, oh, well, why don't we get a? Why don't we go and buy ourselves a hammer and nail and let's do that at home. And so you get all the benefits of it going back into either the family or into the everyday the community, which I think is so valuable when you bring everybody together? And also it makes me think of the many times I've heard young people say, Wow, I didn't realise adults have fun. Yeah, adults can have fun. And on one level, it's like, yeah, but on the other level, it's like, I can look forward to that. Because every adult I see around me is either stressed running around, you know, on their phone, deadly there, and actually, what you can actually hang out with me, we can have fun together. And we can, I guess, feel a connection, feel that we're part of something. And these are no small things are they they're really, really important things.

Tom Williams: It says that switch moment, isn't it, you know, so when it snows, it's like, someone turns a switch. And we all have fun. When, when we're on the beach, someone turns a switch, and we all have fun. And there's a lot of building that's going on, you know, on the beach, boating, sand castles with dad was the big shuffle, like digging that canal across the beach, you know, who's turning that switch, who's giving them permission to do that in those environments. And a lot of people say about woodland tribe is that we're holding that space, we're giving them the permission to do those things. The there may be a bit more nervous about doing, you know, in their everyday lives at home. But the ideal scenario for us is when a child doesn't want to leave the space, you know, mom or dad says don't worry, we'll do this when we go home. We know, we know now that this is okay, that we can do this. And so it carries on.

Marina Robb: Yeah, I mean, you did say to me before, not in this talk that you've seen a kind of generational split that those that are over 40 kind of got it had it and I've spoken about that before on this podcast, you know, my memory of playing on the rack right and nobody was around and so on. But at the same time, those under 40 have had less and less and less experiences. So are more frightened, you know, and of course this is not everybody. But it is it is a common thing that we see.

So I wonder Yeah, if you if we're building a society that is remember murdering and valuing and creating these spaces. What? What kind of image do you think you could leave us with of what that might look like? Like, if I'm not our God, I said this before, I remember on another podcast where I said, Oh, if you had the power, which what would you do? And actually, I realised that's rubbish. Because we don't want to have the power. We want to code. We want to do it out of what happens, right? But what images? Can you give us as a listener as to? Yeah, what would you like to see? happening?

Tom Williams: So, Quentin Blake, the children's illustrator, who, you know, did the drawing for all the Roald Dahl books, you know, everyone knows Quentin, Blake's. It, he was a friend of my Mum's at university, so he drew our first logo for us. I often talk about this, that, you know, Quentin Blake's drawings depict this kind of childhood, that is very much around kind of adventure play. And the books that he's collaborated on, or written himself, you know, are about those unique childhood experiences that children have. His drawings are everywhere, they're on birthday cards, you know, if as a society, we kind of actually embraced his drawings and said, we don't just want them on cards. And in books, we want actual fat in reality, you know, in our neighbourhoods, in our communities, we want spaces that feel have been drawn by Quentin Blake, we would live in a completely different society. That's what I would like to see.

Marina Robb: Oh, I love that. And I'm going to make sure I have a look at some of these images. And yeah, and yeah, thanks again for your time. And we're gonna put on the show notes, links to your websites. And I really hope people out there go and have a look and discover more and support you and support this greater movement, you know, that we're all part of. So thanks, Tom. Really appreciate your time.

Tom Williams: Thank you, Marina. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Marina Robb: Thanks for speaking to me, Tom. Join me next week for episode 18 When I'll discuss more about the importance of risk in our lives. And I hope to challenge our thinking. Do let me know if there are any themes you'd like me to talk about. See you next week.

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The music was written and performed by Geoff Robb. 

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