A reflection on the Youth@Play programme

“Sliding down the grass slope on a cardboard box; building a wee den in behind all the brambles; exploring the wee stream when it went under the road and got all dark; playing ‘shootie in’ with my brother at half time in the FA Cup final …”

Wednesday 30 March saw an evening of celebration for everyone involved in the Youth@Play pilot programme. We had Barra Best (almost); we had tower building with LEGO and loose parts; we had the premiere of videos filmed in participating clubs; we even had the presentation of an Oscar! Most importantly of all, around 30 youth workers were the first ever to receive the OCNNI Level 3 Award Playwork in a Youth Work Setting, and 90 young leaders received their Playwork Principles OCN certificate.

Above are some of my play memories, and during the course of the Youth@Play programme leaders and young people talked about theirs, pointing out just how fantastic it was for us when we played, and how important it is for young people nowadays to get opportunities to do that too. We know that some people think play is what children and young people do when they have nothing better to do, but throughout the Youth@Play programme it was recognised that play is the better thing to do!

The night was about saying “well done” and “thank you” to all those who participated in the programme. It celebrated the impact that workers and young leaders have had on the play in each setting. We had already seen fantastic examples of it in Banbridge where junior leaders who had completed the Level 1 training were making play happen for the children and young people in the club that night! We heard from junior leaders in Belvoir on how they were adding to the play on offer there, and heard from young people in Nubia on their involvement in shaping what play happened that night in the club.

The Youth@Play pilot was about developing a model that would build on the play opportunities for the significant numbers of five to 13-year olds that attend youth settings. We saw first-hand from the videos how the leaders involved in the programme are facilitating more child-led play. A senior youth worker noted that the Youth@Play programme validated what some workers have been doing for years. We heard that play is more than just a time filler – it’s an activity of real value for children and young people, and we heard that child-led play rules and that young people are now let loose in their play!

A resource that will go alongside the model to support all staff working in play settings to enhance their play offer with the children is currently being refined. The Youth@Play team now look set to roll out part of that model over the course of the next year – a programme of training to full and part-time staff in voluntary and statutory youth settings right across Northern Ireland. It is hoped that this will begin a process of establishing play, and the playwork curriculum, firmly in the youth settings’ offer, and thereby better meet the play needs of its members, particularly the younger ones.

Our thanks to the Education Authority for funding and supporting Youth@Play, to all those who participated in the training, and to my colleagues Maeve and Aisling who delivered the programme.

Play is the thing and the people who make it happen are modern day superheroes – in youth settings that was all those who got certificates on the night!

Peter McCartney
Training Coordinator

Read more on celebrating Youth@Play.