Monday 23 March 2015

Backs to the future

It's funny to look back to early nineteenth century Birmingham - a hothouse for the chartists, and then for the Public Library movement, leading ultimately to the Public Libraries Act of 1850.  Then came the rush for all 'Northern' (north of London that is) cities to build Public Libraries, Birmingham at the forefront.

It was, of course, resisted by the Conservatives.  There were concerns that the act 'enforced' taxes for Libraries on everyone, that they might compete against private interests, they might 'become sites of social agitation', and that there was no need for libraries anyway, seeing as no one really read, except the educated rich.  The arguments for - Public libraries would provide facilities for self-improvement through books and reading for all classes, not just those who were wealthy (see wikipedia).

So what's changed?  In terms of the arguments (and who is on which side) very little.  In terms of civic Birmingham's place in those arguments?  That's a little harder to place.  While the new Library of Birmingham was the only completely free site to make the top ten visitor attraction sites in the UK last year (2.5 million visitors), and the only one outside London, cuts will see the library staffing cut in half, as will the opening hours.

And what about the alternatives to Council-run libraries?  Can partnerships be the answer?  Well so far it's not been a very successful experiment:
" Bristol two floors of the Central Library are being taken over by a Free School. The concerns there are over loss of storage/office space for the library, a suspicion that the Free School has been given too good a deal and some doubt over the ideological motivations of the relevant councillors in the move. The second is the taking up of considerable space in Cambridge Central Library by a private company for business offices. This has similar themes – with extra concern over the commercialisation of the library and the speed with which the decision was made."  Public Library News
In Birmingham we had the Tescos / Spring Hill Library partnership from 2010.  At first it appeared the partnership might help pay for renovation and renewal of the beautiful early Public Library, but even though it's imminent closure appeared to be delayed in March 2014, its future is far from certain.  Partnership appears to be more a gradual diminishing of services and a movement to privatisation.

150 years on it still seems Libraries are fighting to argue their economic and social benefits, as over a century of community support, including libraries, seems to be undone in a couple of years.

Useful links:

Saturday 21 March 2015

Research your Street documenting Jago's accident
In 2012 my six year old son was seriously injured in a road accident outside my house - he fell into the road from the narrow pavement.  He's fine now, but following that accident I became more interested in road accidents locally, and then more interested in how communities can pull together to support each other and address local issues.

Swan Corner Community group was formed and 'road safety' has always been a major concern for the group,  We are campaigning at the moment to include the road in the new BCC 20mph initiative.
Length of Brook Lane where Jago fell into the road 

The road has a narrow pavement and is the main route for walking to Swanshurst School, apparently the largest girls school in Europe, at the end of our road.

We have been documenting probems ourself (see our journeys to school, 1 (Arthur's), 2 (Me, Jago and Freya), & 3(from 2013)) but data freely available online has really made the difference to prove the need for change.  Thanks to Podnosh and their Kings Heath and Moseley social media surgery, we've been able to access all the information we need for this, and pretty much anything else.

For more info on road accidents, and for a range of crimes, well documented, and some useful analysis see the following sites: has a particularly useful feature - you can draw around the area you are interested in and it will give you a breakdown of useful stats for any time period, so for my small stretch of Brook Lane:

Sunday 15 March 2015

Playing makes economic sense

Last week at the National Playwork Conference Dens of Equality/Parks for Play won the award for the 'best playwork in other context'. This award is for a playwork approach used in non ‘playwork-traditional’ context.  We were competing against playwork within school provision and other education or learning, creative work within communities - in fact almost anywhere where 'playwork is the medium and not the context'. Dens of Equality and Parks for Play continue as regular funding streams dry up and finding new ways to deliver a playwork service, while picking up awards like this for best practice nationally.

Back in Birmingham we ran a breakfast meeting to show our latest Parks for Play film and to discuss work with our Birmingham City Council partners to develop longer term strategies for funding.  Parks4Play run Playwell - the only fully inclusive provider of after-school care in the UK.  While provision for disabled children nationally is shockingly poor, it underlies a wider mis-understanding about  the needs for specialist childcare and recognising its benefits.

Parents of disabled children want to work to provide for their families and not be dependent on the state.  Playwell also provides vital social context for both the children and their families to learn, develop socially and, not least, to play.   The families who have access to Playwell are the lucky ones.  Across Birmingham and UK there are families with disabled children where parents want to work but can't.  Their children, likewise are in poverty, dependent on the state and isolated with little or no play opportunities.

There are 84,000 children across Birmingham in poverty.  How many of them are disabled?  How many of them have parents able and willing to work but find themselves unable to work because they are caring full-time for their children?

After-school care like Playwell is part of the solution to high levels of poverty and effective support for families with disabled children.  When will both the economic and welfare benefits of childcare like Playwell be recognized and best practice like this be spread across the UK?

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Litter picking on Swan Corner

It didn't take long, but the results speak for themselves - a good hour's work.  Thanks Oz and all the volunteers:

Tuesday 3 March 2015

PLAY is a four letter word

Parks4Play are planning a campaign breakfast screening at the mac cinema, Cannon Hill Park B12 9QH on Friday 13th March, between 8am and 9am.

Playwell - Unique Specialist Childcare

In Birmingham there is a unique specialist childcare service, called Playwell, run by Parks for Play, a 10 year old charity set up by families with disabled children, Playwell  is the first  such provision to combine customised play and playcare on a daily basis afterschool for disabled children and runs from Uffculme ASC School in Moseley. Families are consequently able to train and work to avoid financial immobilisation, social isolation and child poverty.  Playwell provides priority playcare places to local working families with disabled children.

 Disabled Children Play  Well

Playwell generates significant progress for children through facilitated play opportunities. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity. Indisputable research shows that ALL children and young people need to play. Play is a natural process that is freely chosen, spontaneous, joyous, instinctive and absolutely vital for the all-round development of resilient human beings.  The consequence of play deprivation on all children is demonstrated daily by rising concerns around safeguarding, mental health and obesity issues.  Disabled children  are most at risk of play deprivation.  At Playwell the  impact of children's play is evidenced by tangible outcomes in social, physical, intellectual, creative and emotional development. Local governments benefit from Playwell by  the preservation of family well being, the avoidance of crisis intervention, maintaining employment and the consequent cross department savings


Birmingham to lead the way

Parks for Play  sets the lack of specialist childcare at the heart of the EU’s commitment to Equal Access to Employment. Throughout the UK the proliferation of childcare at mainstream schools has  NOT been  mirrored at special schools due to a lack of central support. Parks for Play is campaigning for earmarked European funding to support customised  playcare pilots throughout Europe, starting in Birmingham, to address the disparity in access to childcare and demonstrate best play.

 Neena Gill, Labour MEP is highlighting the barrier to training and employment faced by parents of disabled children in the European Parliament’s Disabilities Intergroup, and is also gathering signatories for a declaration to the EU Council and Commission from MEPs of all 28 Member States.”

Throughout the EU 15 million children have special educational needs.  The lack of adequate child care for these children is an issue that has wide-ranging consequences for the EU's social and economic fabric and needs to be addressed with urgency.

We hope to see you at this event and if you are interested but unable to attend  please get in touch. We can bring presentations to your organisations.

Laura Watts, Parks4Play

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