Making PLAY for EVERYONE!

Life is a serious business. But to get the most out of it, you gotta play! Be more dog! We should all be getting out there and having some fun! Regardless of your age, where you live, what you do for work, or not, if you’re rich or poor, and beyond! It shouldn’t be a luxury to play, which, unfortunately, I think we have treated it like it as one after 12 years of Tory Austerity.

But I am SO STOKED to be sharing the news that we got a £6.5K arts council grant for ‘[p]ARTy in Park’ – or ‘ArTy pArTy in the Park’ event in June 2022. Thanks to the Arts Council Let’s Create! Fund & South Yorkshire Community Foundation.

This will enable us to hire artists, architects, & play specialists to help us celebrate, make art, dream, connect, have fun, and PLAY about PLAY.

The art works will form part of the design for the future playground, that I’m in the (slow) process of making happen in Adwick Park. A much needed upgrade/extension – of a nearly 40 yr old playground, dearly loved and well used.

This will also help to widen our collaborative experiences, and to think about how we want to have more spaces and freedom to be and play. Proper play. Not just sports and gym equipment. That’s my overall goal.

This means a lot to me because our worlds are becoming smaller, when they shouldn’t be. Here’s why:

After I got really sick, my life changed. The experience shook me to my core. I have to live with it now, with all the repercussions it brings. Like the hum of pain I’m often in. But this is my normal now, and all this helped me realized that I’m not here for a long time – but a GOOD time.

For years I was very weak. Would get fatigued really, really quickly. It was just really hard to do anything in the next 2-4 years (a huge gap to have in your important very early 20s). For anybody who goes through this, it’s really about trying to get back to a new sense of normal. Where you probably will never get back to where you were before, but hopefully you can go back to work and hopefully you can get a sense of a “new” normal. 

I came out of the hospital, and slowly reduced my hozza appointments, with a list of things I’d always wanted to do, terrified of being back in the hospital in a year or two with regrets. So I got going. I retrained in Radiotherapy & Oncology. I adopted a border collie dog (I now have 3!). I bought a surfboard, and chased northern lights and climbed volcanoes! I did more inner work and I traveled to a ton of places on my ‘fuck-it’ list. My bank balance wasn’t a fan, given I blew my tiny savings. But as my mom says, “you can’t take it to the grave”.

I devoted myself full-time to living as if I was on borrowed time. Because, well, we are. So let’s PLAY!

It’s-too-important-to-be-taken-seriously view of life can be hard to have. Especially as you get older. Nonetheless, we must choose to remain experimental. We are all explorers. We must pursue our adventures our own way!

How cheering, then, to discover that neuroscience supports my approach. Play and a playful attitude are not just enjoyable, they’re essential ingredients of good mental health.

In English, “play” is the opposite of “work”. But the act itself is more complex. As psychiatrist Dr Stuart Brown puts it: “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.” This makes our current context of huge increase of numbers of people, young and old, with mental health issues.

Dr Brown has spent decades taking “play histories” from patients, after discerning its absence when studying a group of homicidal young men. He believes that play (of any kind – there are seven different types, from “object play” to “narrative play and storytelling”) is essential to brain development. “Nothing,” he says, “lights up the brain like play.”

We know this instinctively when it comes to bringing up children. But research shows that adults need to play, and be playful, too. Prioritizing it might seem frivolous – we live in a planet-sized tangle of problems and injustices, after all. But problems need creative solutions! What if play could help us find them? (I believe this at the pit of my soul). What if play was one of them? Dr Brown is just one scientist who suggests it is. Einstein was another. In his words: “Play is the highest form of research.” There is, the theory goes, a reason Archimedes shouted “Eureka!” in the bath, not the lab. And it’s why I love to listen to Audible in the bath too!

We’re all convinced we’re too busy to do it, and that’s no accident. Our culture values busy-ness – it is how we measure ‘goodness’. Take political language: the Victorians distinguished between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor along religious lines; these days politicians differentiate in terms of productivity: “jobseekers”, “the hardworking poor”, “hardworking families” – busy-ness has replaced godliness, but the new language is just as unhelpful as the old.

When I became a councillor, nearly a year ago, the first thing on my list was to sort out the very limited (& run down) playgrounds, centres, and parks. I had no idea playgrounds cost so much. And so, it explained why there were fewer playgrounds now in my ward than when I was growing up 15+ years ago – and that most of them are now in a sorry state.

In order to thrive in today’s rapidly changing world, (esp young) people need rich learning opportunities in their communities, that allow them to adapt and engage in independent and lifelong learning. An overwhelming body of evidence points to play as the best way to equip people with a broad set of flexible and creative activities that allow personal capacities to tackle new and different challenges creatively. This is evidenced in studies that show that quality play-based education has a high return on investment in the form of higher earnings, reduced crime, and other social indicators.

Play isn’t ‘a waste of time’, it’s useful. It is recreation with the emphasis on the last three syllables. Play is indispensable to human progress and good for individuals. A culture that encourages it will enjoy cumulative benefits. Denmark – officially the happiest country on earth – is an example. Flexible work and affordable childcare are the norm, which means more free time. In addition, there is greater gender equality and a work-to-live culture that includes the expectation that people should pursue private interests (even – gasp! – carers).

In the workplace, an experimental approach – to tasks as well as the structure of the working day – can boost productivity and profits.

But what does it look like at a local democratic level? A community all building, playing, making together? I hope this will be the very start of it (in an official way). I think we’re already on the way to becoming more playful and hopeful. This event will help keep up the momentum and be led by people who specialize in participation and play.

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I’m not sure at what point in our lives we start craving the future and rushing through the present, but the good days are here and now. Look around. They’re happening. PLAY!

My five years came and went and I am still here. Obsessed with the odds, I’ve gotten way more time than I allotted to myself. That’s when things changed. It’s easy to answer the question, “How would you spend your time if you only had a few years left?” It’s much, much harder when you don’t know how much time you’ve got. Of course, that’s most of us.

The most fundamental change is that I no longer act like my time’s infinite. That’s our default mindset, but it’s a lie. We only have so many hours or days with our parents or dogs left. We can only read so many more books. I only get so many more Christmas’s, or surf sessions, or birthdays, or phone calls with friends. So I’d better choose what matters to me.

Whatever time I have left, I have to “own” it.

In general, I’m pretty optimistic. I see a lot of good coming from the changes we need because, We all need to play, especially those of us who think we are too busy. Life is TOO SHORT not to. Too short NOT to fight and dream for better, more fun, more equal, the better quality of life stuff!

Try something different. Spin yourself around for no reason at all, until you feel dizzy. Make the longest, funnest hop-scotch on your street! Who cares if you’re middle aged?! Why not start now? It is a brand new week, after all.

I hope you’ll join me, come along, support us – doing a campaign for more play. Play for everyone. Making more spaces, things, culture and time to play. And in turn, dream and believe! And get active in the changes we can then make.

The [p]ARTY in the Park will be in June 2022 (date Saturday 11th June TBC) at Adwick Park. Come and eat/laugh/make new friends/ connect/ run around/ sit and chat/ draw/make/remember/ envision/ dream / design the future! And have fun playing!

No matter how old you are. Here’s to using our time in a fun, compassionate, playful and challenging way!

Published by smizz

Artist → Re-evaluating life→ Rad Oncology graduate + public health worker→ @lab4living PhD-er → Want 2 make a positive difference → Rule-Breaker → LIVE DRAWZ! → councillor! → Loves cities → rides fixie → adventures → wanna be ramen master → <3 Tokyo + NYC

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