A few weeks ago I delivered a workshop to ten participants at a retreat in the peak district. The workshop was designed to be a space for adults to explore play and reflect upon what it meant in their lives. This is an idea I’ve had hanging about since the same retreat last year where I spontaneously (but very predictably) built a fort. Seeing the joyous and excitable way people responded to this at the time got me thinking.
[image shows five photographs. 1. The word play drawn in chalk on the ground outside an open door. It is sunny and there is an arrow pointing inside. 2. Image of part of the inside space. There are comfy looking cushions on the ground, one with the gruffalo drawn on it, and a climbing wall in the background. There is a small geometric structure hanging from the ceiling with feathers inside. 3. This is a close up photograph of the structure in image two, the close up allows us to see it is suspended on a string and can move back and forth allowing the feathers too fall. 4. This is a close up photograph of a clear plastic timer with blue and pink bubble inside. The sun shines through large windows in the background casting a shadow of the bubbles on the floor. 5. An image looking down on the floor where there is some large brown paper, an assortment of coloured markers and a notebook.]
The session was a bit slow to start, I think most people didn’t really know what to expect and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to deliver, but after some self-conscious mumbling I remembered that I actually had a lot to say and got chatting. With this plus some great input from participants we slowly created an interactive and relaxed space. I started out discussing play, what it means and how we may or may not play as adults. For me this means talking about permission and self-value. To play means to do something purely for the sake of play. It is always a process. Letting go of a need to be productive in a society where we are so often told our value comes from what we can produce or provide is not easy, it requires recognising your inherent value as a person. As someone with a neurodiverse brain and a long relationship with depression letting myself experience play has been a huge act of compassion. This led to talking about the relationship between play and health, focusing on the ways play can help us recognise and meet our emotional and sensory needs. I introduced the concept of ‘Niche construction’ i.e. the idea of modifying your surrounding environment to meet your needs rather than trying to adjust how your body or brain works to fit the environment. This led perfectly to me finally telling the group it was time to play.
I had a bunch of resources for the group to use; ropes, sheets, art materials, lights, various fiddle toys, sensory objects and a wrestling mask. The group was really keen and barely needed any input from me which was exactly what I wanted. I loved watching as the space took shape. Some automatically gravitated towards playing and creating together whilst others drifted into their own worlds or created more intimate spaces in pairs. The atmosphere was relaxed and open. I was particularly happy to see people feeling comfortable and confident enough to drift in and out of the main group, it felt like I was seeing a very natural process take place.
I love the idea of a ‘play space’, particularly when that space is temporary. I feel like the temporary nature of this space enabled a freer play. It eases the fear of making mistakes or doing things wrong somehow- concepts which can make play difficult for adults. It also makes focusing on the process and not an end goal or product much easier. The relaxed and free nature of the retreat made for a gentle transition into play. I’d be interested to try this workshop within different contexts and experiment with how to facilitate bringing people into that mental as well as physical play space.
The space at the beginning
The space at the end
[Two photographs laid out side by side show the workshop space at the beginning and end of the session. The first shows a medium sized room with a high ceiling and lots of light coming in from large high windows. The walls are climbing walls and there are various ropes strung across from the sides of the room. There are cushions and bean bags laid out on the floor. The second is the same space but now contains a fort. The ropes in the room have been utilised to string multiple sheets up to form a roof creating a smaller space within the room. Cushions and bean bags have been pulled into the corner creating a cosy looking space. Their are fairy lights inside and pieces of art on the floor which people have been creating]
I hope the participants took something with them from this experience and will continue to explore play for themselves. I’m very excited to do this again, I’m on the lookout for different spaces and opportunities and feel very positive about the ways this could develop. I’d love to hear your ideas!
The retreat I’m talking about here was run by the organisation Trans Bare All (TBA). TBA are an organisation who aim to improve the emotional wellbeing of Trans people through body and sex positive workshops, social events and education. They are fantastic and you should go check out what they do!