Play Projects 

Nottingham has had many Play Projects over the years, the vast majority being voluntary run and managedsadly, several of these are no longer runningFrom small community projects to city wide organisations we explore a few that have benefitted the children and families of Nottingham. 


Sherwood Playgroup 

Sherwood Playgroup is one of the oldest in Nottingham and is still open, now in it’s 60th year and hoping to celebrate their diamond anniversary with their own events in 2021. It has operated from Sherwood Community Centre on Mansfield Road. Hear Louise Holland, Playgroup Manager and local historian Paul Swift talk about the playgroup here 


Meadows Play Project and Ethel Swann 

Perhaps notable as one of the areas of the city that did not have an Adventure Playground or Playcentre, The Meadows area just south of Nottingham City Centre was well served by The Meadows Play ProjectCommunity Playschemes and activities took place at Queens Walk Community Centre between the 1970’s and 2000’s, namely the Junction Club on Saturday mornings.  

Central to the Meadows Play Project was Ethel Swann who probably did more than anyone else to develop and campaign for children’s right to play in Nottingham.  Ethel began with the Pre School Play Groups Association in 1962 and went on to focus on play for over 5’s by organising Playschemes. She was heavily involved in forming and establishing The Nottingham Playscheme Forum, which went on to become Nottingham Play Forum, PlayWorks of which she was chair for several years. She was active as a trustee of several other play organisations including Play For Disabled Children and Co-Founder of the Play In Schools Project. Ethel received an OBE for her services to children and families and an MBE in 2013 in recognition of over 50 years supporting children’s playShe is an expert and advocate of traditional games and continues to be an inspiration to the play community in Nottingham. Even though Ethel has retired she kept up her involvement in recent years by volunteering at Gedling Play Forum and visited PlayWorks in September 2018 to share her knowledge on Traditional Games. Watch a short film we made on the day below:

Ethel Swann leads children dancing as part of The Meadows Play Project  

Playcentre For Disabled Children 

Situated behind Sherwood Community Centre on Mansfield Road The Playcentre for Disabled Children, Young People and their families provided much needed Play Services and support for Disabled Children and their Families until its sudden closure in May 2006Set up by Pat and Jenny, they worked closely with Nottingham Play Forum and ran playschemes from their base in Sherwood and across Nottinghamshire. They were forward thinking and serious about inclusion, with services such as Advocacy that enabled disabled children to access their local mainstream play services. They also provided training and shared their expertise with the play community to build capacity and campaigned for greater inclusion. 

Windbag Project 


Founded 1981  


 The Windbag Project was a scheme that produced small inflatable structures and delivered supervised play sessions in the community.  

The workforce producing the structures began as groups of offenders on Community Service Orders. The joint creativity of the voluntary play sector and the probation service used the time of the offenders to make positive impacts in communities. The images below show teams producing and maintaining early structures, they would also go on to supervise play sessions.  


To provide free play services to disadvantaged groups. The efforts focused on groups:  

  1. In the inner city 
  2. With black and asian communities 
  3. With special needs provision for adults and children 


Alan Parkinson was initially involved in The Windbag Project as a driver/supervisor to drive a minibus for half a day a week, taking out a large airbed (see attached image) and a group of offenders sentenced to community service orders. Once at a location, the offenders would erect the airbed and supervise the safety of the users.  

The airbed required too much maintenance, so Alan recruited help from other community projects (notably Leicester Interplay and Roger Hutchinson) to work out how to make better structures. 

Windbag were involved in delivering soft play making workshops where volunteers from play projects could make soft play items for their projects.

From the humble beginnings of small rectangular inflatables, much larger and complex structures were made, while connecting with new forms like drama, dance and music to expand the offer.  

Eggopolis was the third of the inflatable environments Windbag built.  It was built as a touring performance space to house promenade performances by a group of professional actors (Touch & GO from Loughborough) and adults with learning difficulties from Springwood Day Centre.  

-1990: EGGOPOLIS –                    


In 1990 the Eggopolis sculpture toured the UK with its mixed ability performance group performing to mixed ability audiences.   In 1991, Nottingham Play Forum produced the Summer Holiday Arts Project (SHAP) and for the duration of the Nottingham Children’s Art Festival, The Eggopolis was located on the Castle Green for the enjoyment of visitors to the event. 


In 1992 the Windbag Inflatable Project came to end but Eggopolis continued to be presented to wider audiences until 2000 by the newly formed “Architects of Air” 

Architects of Air continue to produce Eggopolis-type structures developed from The Windbag Project now known as Luminaria. The inflatable structures have toured the world including an annual appearance at Nottingham’s own Weee! Festival for families held each year at The University of Nottingham, welcoming audiences from all over the globe.  

In 2018 to celebrate The Toy Librarys’ 40th year the Luminaria made an appearance at our summer play day event held at Bulwell Hall Park.  


The Toy Library 

The Toy Library (formerly Bulwell Community Toy Library) was established by parents in Bulwell with the purpose of improving the life chances of babies and pre-school children in 1978 and we have worked towards this in a variety of  ways ever since. Whilst we began by operating a toy loan service for families with young children this has always been a means by which to bring parents together to support each other and to start a conversation. Then and now, all of our services and activities have grown from such conversations, driven by the needs as experienced by local parents as well as their ideas and vitality. For this reason, toy loans took place at group sessions for families in community venues within pram pushing distance. These regular groups helped to form supportive networks as well as to model activities for children aimed at improving development outcomes. 


We focus our attention on play. Not only is play a key to a child’s learning and development, it is also a vital interface between a young child and its parents and later between children and their community.  


We began with a base in the Red Lion Community Centre in Bulwell, staffed entirely by volunteers. It wasn’t until 1984 that we were able to employ a paid manager along with some part time worker/trainees thanks to the Manpower Service Commission and the County Council. In 1996 the Council loaned us our first van. 

We extended our work with the Language Through Toys and Play project in 1997, a targeted home visiting service to support speech and language development in young children. This was the start of a period of expansion as Surestart and other local authority departments recognized the capacity of the Toy Library to work with families and parts of the community that they couldn’t access. 

It wasn’t until 2006 that we started to run play services for local school aged children in response to requests from parents.  

From 2008 onwards we saw a drastic reduction in funding from the local authority but have managed to survive and thrive. We now offer a Family Mentor home visiting service to all families with young children in Bulwell as well as out of school play services for 5-13 year old children across the north of Nottingham.