The idea of running a Pop Up Play Shop in Conwy was first thought of when we came across Pop Up Adventure Play’s Toolkit on their website. This fired up our imaginations and we decided we wanted to play shop too!
Our shop was run over a fortnight in Colwyn Bay, Conwy. We set up the shop with help from lots of different agencies. The main collaborator was Communities First who paid the rent on the retail unit and helped to advertise the project. The Colwyn Bay Town Centre manager also helped to find the retail unit and granted permission for us to use the pedestrianised street as a play area.
The project lent itself well to both organisations whose aims are to offer training and opportunities to residents of communities first areas and revitalise the town centre respectively. Dewis Chwarae, a charity for play in North West Wales (now closed), Groundwork North Wales Sustainable Play project and Play Wales all gave playworker time to help us staff the shop.
We had an enormous retail unit so we crammed it full of loose parts and opened the doors! Attendance was quite slow at first. We found that families needed enticing into the shop, as many wouldn’t enter on their own perhaps because they didn’t know what it was or they were worried about cost. However, once they were in we had great feedback! We found it very interesting how children entered and approached the space.
Some children immediately threw themselves at the large loose parts and set about playing. However, the majority of children seemed to need time to get used to the space. This may be because there are no playwork settings in Conwy and very few playschemes using loose parts so for many children it was their first time seeing loose parts on mass!
We also reflected that perhaps it was slightly disorientating going shopping and suddenly finding a haven of play! To welcome children into the space playworkers first suggested more structured activities such as jenga, table tennis or arts and crafts. This seemed to work well as a bridging activity and as the children became used to the space they progressed to becoming immersed in their own freely chosen play.
We experienced some difficulties with young people wanting to use the space. It was extremely important to us that the space was accessible and attractive to all ages and we were pleased to draw in young people as well as younger children. However, some young people interacted in a way which some of the general public found difficult. They were very loud and were keen on very active, rough and tumble play, which was quite often on the edge of chaos if not boiling over the edge!
Whilst this kind of behaviour is very normal and is manageable in an open setting it became challenging in the shop, as we as playworkers were very aware of damage to the shop fittings and were mindful of the reputation of the project and of playwork practice. All of these factors meant that we intervened earlier in the play than might have occurred in an open setting such as a park.
There was a lot of fantasy, imaginative, dramatic, socio-dramatic and role play, more so than most outdoor play sessions, perhaps because of the many play cues and affordances offered by the shop and loose parts. Also, it felt as though the walls of the space itself created a physical frame which held and extended play frames that might otherwise have been annihilated quickly in an open setting. Unsurprisingly, there was much exploratory and object play with the various loose parts.
Historically, CVSC Play Development Team has struggled to engage with parents either due to other demands on their time meaning low numbers on parent courses or the nature of open access play sessions meaning most children attend on their own. The Pop Up Play Shop was the most successful project we have run in terms of engaging with parents. Parents stayed with their children, often for a couple of hours, meaning playworkers were able to advocate for play, suggest ideas for play opportunities and discuss barriers to play.
The Pop Up Play Shop will hopefully run again as part of our Play Sufficiency action plan. The shop contributed towards play sufficiency in numerous ways, most directly to Matter F and Information, publicity and events. The shop contributed to the narrative of the importance of accepting children’s play in different spaces rather than being confined only to playgrounds. In Conwy we try to send out a message that children and young people are accepted in any public space.
In Conwy where we have very little open access play provision, the play shop provided two weeks of free playwork provision. The shop also enabled us to advocate for play with the general public and provide positive messages about play in local media. We distributed information about the importance of play and free play spaces in Conwy through the shop.