Putney Family Playscheme, August 1975
“I chose to work with SSN children (sic – learning difficulties or disabilities) because I regarded it as real challenge and so totally different from any previous experience. I thought it would be hard: it was. I did not expect to enjoy it: I did. I did not apply to be leader, I was asked to do it, but the burden of responsibility made the experience more exciting and valuable. It was undoubtedly one of the most rewarding, useful and fascinating experiences I have ever had.”
This was the conclusion to my fifteen-page report (plus appendices) on the “Summer Vacation Fieldwork Assignment” following my first year course at Edge Hill College and it makes fascinating reading after all these years. A memory in remember in subsequent years was being slightly shocked by the enormity of the responsibility we had managed. I was co-leader with Maria Haines who was a nursing student in Manchester at the time. There was support behind the scenes as explained in my introduction to the report.
“The Putney Family Playscheme was established as a joint effort between Quaker Work Camps (Friends Service Council) and many other people including the Principal of Putney College for Further Education, the Wandsworth Branch and the Metropolitan Region of the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children, the Headmistress of Paddock Wood Special School, Richmond and Noreen Miller, organiser of two similar schemes in Wandsworth Borough.
The aim of the three-week project was 1) to provide play facilities for a group of mentally handicapped children drawn from the western section of the Borough of Wandsworth and 2) that an opportunity be made for the parents of these children to meet, with a view to establishing a long-term family neighbourhood scheme in Putney for children with all types of handicap, similar to groups already existing in Balham and Battersea.
The sixteen volunteers ranging in age from 16 upwards and including one in a wheelchair, lived in a flat belonging to the local parish above a church hall. Half of the volunteers came from different parts of the Britain and were recruited by FSC. The other half came from West Germany, Austria, France, Turkey, Algeria and Nigeria and came via work camps organisations in their own country.
We cared for a total of thirty-one children during the three weeks. At no time did we have that many: some children came for just one week or two. Some came from home, while others came from a Hostel where they were in permanent or temporary care. Many of the children, who ranged in age from 7-17 attend the Paddock Wood School.”
Work CampsQuaker Tapestry
This panel tells of the many Quaker Work Camps where young people from different countries could work together for two or three weeks on socially useful projects. The idea originally pioneered by Pierre Ceresole (1879-1973) was the beginning of the many and varied international voluntary service projects seen around the world today.
Most of the college assignment describes the individual and group activities we organised for the children. We had lots of space at the college including two gymnasia. One day we organised a play circus. I also managed to get hold of newsprint end-reels from a local newspaper and we had great fun using it in imaginative and destructive ways. The report also includes pre-professional evaluation of the tension between meeting the very individual needs of the children and the effectiveness of group activity with specific illustrations. The volunteers also took it turns to write a daily log which highlighted their reactions to the working day, the tasks of communal living in the flat and the fun of evening and weekend activities. I have recollection of being taken out in Putney High Street in the wheelchair which was an informative experience.
Oh, and I was given an “A” for the assignment.
Although it was a course requirement to engage in a vacation assignment I would like to say participation in this playscheme was highly influential in general terms of leadership experience. It was taken on with the confidence of youth and I feel only later did I gain a sense of risk-aversion for professional reasons. I did gain the courage to ask people in organisations for help even if it was out-of-the-blue. This was before mobile phones, of course. It usually works especially if it is to benefit someone else. The playscheme involved diverse organisations collaborating for a specific purpose. These were national, local authority and charity sector. I think this made it quite special as it was only later when everything became a “partnership”.
We did get a bunch of young people to provide assistance in the playscheme with children quite outside their own experience. “Taking people with you” was a line used, successfully, in an interview twelve years later. It was a good volunteering opportunity, including the workcamp element, for all of them. The unfurnished flat provided rudimentary accommodation and we shared the cooking and cleaning. There was plenty of social time and we also visited a few places elsewhere in London.
The playscheme was also far-reaching quite specifically as four years later we were in Deal (link) and Margaret was working in Folkestone with adults with learning difficulties and both of us were volunteering one evening a week with the Deal and Walmer Gateway Club. We were involved in the committee work of the local branch of Mencap which obviously over-lapped with the Club. I would drive a minibus around the town and it was great fun working with the adult clients and informative supporting their resilient parents. Our involvement with the Gateway Club ended when we moved to Ashford in late 1987.
It was just three weeks of a student summer holiday and yet it was so much more than that.