This week our Summer of Parks spotlight shines on Kay Park in Kilmarnock, highlighting the work they do year-round to encourage and champion play, including their annual Playday event.
Playday is the UK-wide celebration of children's play. Having started 32 years ago, it takes place on the first Wednesday of August each year celebrating children's right to play as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and highlighting the importance of play in children's lives.
Each year, Kay Park in Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire is home to a large-scale Playday event attracting up to 14,000 visitors with activities for all ages of children and young people. At 16 hectares, Kay Park is one of the largest public open space areas within the East Ayrshire local authority area. It has been protected with Fields in Trust since 2013 as part of the Queen Elizabeth Fields Challenge and the park is a previous recipient of a Fields in Trust award for working with children. The park is well used by the local community and for one day each year it becomes a centre for the celebration of play. During Playday activities the park is split into several zones with different activities including Adventure, Creative, Free Play, Physical and Messy Zones. There are lots of opportunities for visitors to try something new including quad bikes, canoeing on the pond, sports taster sessions and arts and crafts.
Tammy Devlin is team leader for play and early intervention at East Ayrshire Council and explained about the Council's significant commitment to supporting play as one part of their Vibrant Communities approach of "putting people are at the heart of everything we do". Vibrant Communities works with all sectors of the community including children, young people and their families. Using prevention and early intervention services they aim to develop sustainable communities, increase wellbeing and reduce inequalities.
Play is a significant way of working with local children, young people and families - it can be with individuals, small groups or in particular circumstances, such as support to children and families of prisoners and specifically supporting children who are looked after within East Ayrshire Children's Houses. Tammy says: "When they play freely children are engaging with new and possibly challenging experiences which means they have to take control and solve problems, helping to build confidence".
This connects with the UK-wide theme for Playday 2019 - Play Builds Children - which draws on the Children's Play Policy Forum statement published earlier this year. The campaign calls on everyone across the UK to celebrate the many ways in which play is beneficial to children and young people and demonstrates that a small investment now that will pay off in the future. Playday 2019 reflects the following themes:
Overall there are around 100 staff on hand in Kay Park to help things run smoothly, and whilst the overarching Playday themes help to guide the play professionals, for the children who attend their focus is fun! Tammy identifies that Playday can be a highlight of the summer for many children. She says: "We work with families who are struggling - there is poverty, lack of opportunity and social isolation - so it is vital that we make Playday as welcoming and inclusive as possible". Tammy explains that the organisers try to remove any barriers that prevent people from coming, "We used to say all you need is a sandwich for lunch, but this year a number of packed lunches have been made available for those that need them. Now we are talking with with public transport operators to see if in future we might offer free travel to Playday on public transport".
In addition to the children's play activity, Playday will also see lots of voluntary sector and community engagement with the visitors: local organisations have stalls where they can talk about the services they offer and identify pathways for young people and their families who want to take-up a new activity, join the Cubs or Brownies or just find out what is going on locally.
Tammy points out that Playday activities in Kay Park take place no matter the weather: "There's no such thing as bad weather - you just need different clothes!" The mud slide is always a very popular activity, so a change of clothes and a towel is recommended anyways.
The annual celebration of Playday in Kay Park is "fun, fabulous and free!" but it is also a serious business. Without regular outdoor play, children could miss out on activities that are vital for physical and emotional development and which contribute to their health and wellbeing, build connections with others and develop resilience. Play doesn't need to cost a lot, it doesn't need lots of toys, equipment or high-tech gadgets... but children will always need a place to play. Kay Park is protected with Fields in Trust ensuring it will always be available for future generations to play.
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