This potted history begins in the 1960’s. Prior to that there was little in the way of dedicated play services for children in Nottingham. Whilst children in the first half of the 20th century had less traffic and roaming restrictions it is argued that many had other restrictions such as work or helping with bringing up siblings. The first Playgroups in Nottingham were established soon after the launch of the national playgroup movement in 1961. The National Pre-School Playgroups Association was set up following a letter to the Guardian newspaper expressing concern over the government’s ban on the expansion of nursery provision, calling for community run facilities for pre school children. Playgroups were set up in Beeston, Sherwood and Wollaton and soon after, in 1966, training courses were established at the University School of Education, using as tutors many of the people involved in setting up the first playgroups.

The responsibility for registering playgroups at this time lay with the Health Department’s Community Medicine Officer, and this was taken on by the Social Services Department after the local government restructuring in 1974. The Social Services Department also provided a grant to help set up the County Pre-school Playgroups Association.

In 1967 the Federation of Community Associations bought a double decker bus with voluntary assistance from Mid Notts Pre-school Playgroups Association and employed a paid driver. The bus visited many estates with no facilities for children, including the Heathfield Estate, Berridge Road in Hyson Green, Crabtree Farm, Top Valley and Silverdale. The bus operated for eight years, organising out of school activities, and the project finished when the driver left.

Towards the end of the 1960’s the first holiday playschemes began to emerge, including one organised by the Indian Welfare Association and one in Silverdale.

The first Adventure Playground in Nottingham, in St Ann’s, was opened in 1971, and over the next few years others were opened at Broxtowe, Balloon Woods, Edwards Lane, and Tennyson Street in Radford. The playgrounds in St Ann’s and Broxtowe are still open and there are now others in Forest Fields and The Ridge, in Bestwood. These projects were set up by local volunteers and are now operated by Nottingham City Council.

In 1975 the Nottingham Adventure Playground Association was established to act as a support and information body for adventure playgrounds and to assist in the development of new projects. The Association also ran training courses, and in 1979 secured funding to run a one-year trainee scheme with the Workers Education Alliance, funded through the Manpower Services Commission. This scheme ran successfully for 3 years.

In 1979, the City Council organised a well attended conference for those involved in play. At this time, the Community Facilities section of the Arts Department were grant aiding 8 playschemes and 4 of the 5 adventure playgrounds. Networking between those involved in Play grew, and in 1982 Nottingham Playscheme Forum was established, with a grant of £50 from Nottingham City Council; this later became Nottingham Play Forum, acting as a hub and delivering training courses for the play community.

Interest in children’s play from both the City and County Council was also growing. This was accompanied with an awareness from certain key Council Officers of the importance of the services that were being provided by the voluntary sector.

By 1982 there were 29 registered playgroups in the city, 60 holiday projects, 6 full time play projects and several parent and toddler groups, toy libraries and after school schemes.

After the street riots across the country at this time, including those in the Hyson Green area of Nottingham, the Department of the Environment doubled grant aid for holiday projects from £15,000 to £30,000, announcing this increase in May of that year.  For the first time, grant aid for holiday playschemes was advertised.

Towards the end of 1982, the County Council’s Play Initiative was launched. At that time, County Council funding and support for play was through 3 Departments, those being, Education, Social Services and Leisure. Those organising play activities in the City had a bewildering route to grants through many different departments and organisations in the County and the City.

The Joint Education, Social Services and Leisure Sub Committee (JESSL) decided to hold a county wide conference on Play in October 1983 “to discuss and decide upon means of achieving a better and more co-ordinated level of service provision for the future.” Two temporary Research/Consultation workers were appointed to gather and collate necessary background information; and a permanent Officers’ Panel for Play, with representatives from a number of County Council Departments was established to gain an “overview of the contribution to play, co-ordinate efforts, identify gaps in provision and so enable real planning and allocation of resources to take place.” At the same time, the County Council established posts for four Play Development Workers, two of which were based in the City.

The Research / Consultation workers drew up District Profiles of existing provision and held consultation meetings to identify issues of concern prior to the October 1983 conference.

Building on the 1983 conference, each district throughout the County now had its own Play Forum and Play Development Worker. The funding and support for play was then rationalised through one Department: The Community Division of Social Services, with a Principal Officer solely responsible for play, managing the Play Development Workers. As a result of this initiative, a County Play Forum was established comprising of Officers, Elected Members and representatives from the Community and Voluntary Sector.

A parallel growth in the awareness of the importance of Children’s Play had also taken place within Nottingham City Councils Community Facilities Section of the Arts Department, which then became the Community Services Division of the Leisure Department. In 1986, the post of Play Liaison Officer was created from one of the Community Facilities Assistant Posts.

Also in 1986 Nottingham Play Forum opened a Play Resource Centre at Bullivant Street in St Anns which became known as PlayWorks. In addition to the Play Resource Centre Nottingham Play Forum developed a training group and had Play Development Workers to support the growing Holiday Playscheme sector that was now funded by a centralised grant. SHAP, The Summer Holiday Arts Project visited voluntary run playschemes, giving children new experiences of creative art projects working with local artists.

In 1991 a Play Development Officer post was created and the Play Liaison Officer post became the Senior Play Development Officer, with responsibility for managing the City Council funded full time projects. This was the first time that the Play Development Service had been a service in its own right. At this time a lot of the posts were grant aided but as part of the review these staff became Nottingham City Council employees. During 1993, Area Play Development Workers were developed from temporary workers working on Summer Play initiatives and with the help of City Challenge funding the Play Development Section had full time staff, with the post of Service Manager Play Development becoming established in 1994.

The launch of the National Childcare Strategy in 1998 increased childcare places and with this many new ‘Out of school Clubs’ started across the city including Greenfields and at Seely Primary School.  Whilst these facilities provided Play as part of their services there was a shift towards a more parent focused agenda, with childcare rather than play the primary focus. Nevertheless, this brought additional funding for both accredited and informal training. Nottingham Early Years Development Unit at the time provided support for the development of out of school care and directly funded many of the courses delivered by Nottingham City Council Play Service and Nottingham Play Forum around this time. In later years, this funding directly contributed to the Play Training Officer post for NCC Play Service and resulted in the delivery of Play based training across the wider childcare workforce, such as ‘Everyone Can Play’, an endorsed Play Inclusion course and the CACHE Level 3 Diploma in Playwork.

 

In 1998 Unitary Status meant the Nottingham City separated from the County Council. Grants for playschemes were accessed through Area Teams with separate money available for camp and residentials.

Around the turn of the century Nottingham Play Forum led a working group, the Play Action Network to develop a City-Wide Policy for Play. This was ambitious as it looked to influence all services such as Housing and development, so that children’s play was considered when key decisions were made.  

In 2004 the Play Service moved from the Department of Leisure and Community Services into Children’s Integrated Services in accordance with the centralisation of all children’s services as required by the 2004 Children’s Act. A new service structure was introduced with a dedicated Playcentre Co-ordinator and around this time extra playworkers were employed at each playground or playcentre. An inclusion budget was ringfenced to increase staffing capacity to help provide extra support to include more disabled children to attend their local project.

In 2006 Play Pathfinder funding was secured in Nottingham. This led to partnership work between the NCC Play Service and Parks and Open Spaces to redevelop many city play areas including the Forest Recreation ground and dozens of community play areas over the following few years. A Play Pathfinder training programme was also delivered in community venues across the city, increasing Play knowledge and skills to parents, grandparents, volunteers and workers. The Pathfinder project also funded the building of The Ridge Adventure Playground in Bestwood.

In 2007, the Play Pathfinder funding also contributed to the In2 Play and Engagement Conference. Held at Colwick racecourse, this conference was innovative in that it was for children, with a range of workshops focussing on decision making on issues that affected them, such as designing play spaces and recruiting Playworkers.

In 2007 after consultation with the play sector and children and families, Nottingham City Council launched their Play Strategy for the City. This built on the work of the Nottingham City Play Policy and informed the delivery of the Play Pathfinder project. The Play Strategy reviewed the existing provision and sought to address the following 6 key areas: Reduce Childhood obesity through Active Play, Improve mental health and emotional resilience through play. Ensure children and young people are safeguarded in play. Increase engagement in play, learning and positive activities. Improve support for parents and carers. Realign open and green spaces to meet play need.

In 2011 Nottingham City Play Service joined with Youth services in an amalgamation of the two disciplines. The workforce came together and a new multi-disciplinary post of Play & Youth Worker was created with staff responsible for delivering play services to children aged 5-13 and Youth services to those 11-19.

Since 2010 national austerity measures has resulted in large cuts to the funding available for play and play services. This has resulted in the ending of Playscheme grants and a reduction in the service levels at Adventure Playgrounds, Playcentres and Play projects. Local funding for play and children’s leisure is now distributed through Area Based Grants. There has also been much less money to support the workforce through play training and general funds for the voluntary sector. This had largely led to the closure of Nottingham Play Forum in March 2019.

In 2021 after a year where the Covid 19 pandemic has changed the world dramatically, along with the rest of society, children’s ability to socialise and play out has been extremely restricted. The need for children to play is now greater than ever.