Charlie Marsh, Play Ranger for Play Gloucestershire
The impact of COVID-19 on our charity - Play Gloucestershire - began with the cessation of school and community sessions from March 17th 2020. We were forced to furlough 15 members of staff in order to survive. As one of the three un-furloughed staff members, work provided a structure for me during such an unprecedented time of change.
Initially we created ‘Virtual Play Rangers’, sharing online content detailing low-cost play activities and mental health boosts, but we wanted to do something practical, and being mindful of digital exclusion, our ‘Bags for Play’ campaign was born. Each bag was a mini version of the kit we would usually take to communities in our fleet of vans. Equipment that could lead to play at home, in the garden, on a balcony. With the help of external funders, long-term local council funders and generous donations via our ‘Bags of Play Appeal’, we packed and delivered 1,500 bags for vulnerable children and families across Gloucestershire.
Play Ranger Charlie with some of the many Bags of Play created by Play Gloucestershire
I felt incredibly lucky to be able to help with the Bags of Play Appeal, physically packing the bags provided a welcome distraction and knowing that I was doing something practical to help vulnerable children and families made me feel useful after the initial stage of working from home, regular Zoom meetings and adjusting to a 'new normal'.
I particularly enjoyed delivering bags to individual children living in the communities where we would usually be offering free, open access play sessions. Hearing about their experiences, which were varied but predominantly positive, with some relishing free time and being at home with family, others feeling frustrated and cooped up; gave me an insight into the social inequalities facing children during lockdown. Those living in less rural areas were often in flats sharing communal indoor and outdoor spaces, making it difficult to socially distance.
Children receiving their Bags of Play
In addition to this, I worried about children who were having a negative lockdown experience, the mental health implications for adults and children, and families who were struggling without the usual school or social support networks.
Concerns about the impact of lockdown on the most vulnerable children in Gloucestershire created an opportunity for us to collaborate withGloucestershire County Council's Early Help and Prevention Team. They funded us to lead Play Nurture sessions for vulnerable children and those facing a disrupted transition from year 6 to year 7 due to the pandemic. Our Play Nurture work provides vulnerable children with the time and space to take part in child-led outdoor play and benefit from its restorative and healing qualities.
Following the success of these projects, we recently secured funding for our ‘Play 2 Recover’ project from the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, distributed by The National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. This core funding for the next six months of our recovery phase will enable us to continue supporting children and families in need through Play Nurture bubbles and ensure our survival as a charity, putting us in a strong position to resume our community-based work when restrictions are finally lifted.
Thanks to a generous donation from Active Gloucestershire good quality skipping ropes were also included in many Bags of Play