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The Importance of Play

Play Association Tower Hamlets have been providing free play for 5-15 year olds since 2001. We spoke to Eleanor Image, Play Development Manager at PATH, about the organisation and play in general.

PATH was set up in 2001, she says, because the people of Tower Hamlets had noted a big gap in the provision of activities for 5-15 year olds and very little free play areas in the borough. Operating on the basis of neighbourliness and friendliness, they work with a wide amount of organisations, primarily community based, to fill this. PATH believes play activities should be free:

Free to attend, Free to choose what you want to do, Free to come and go. The playworkers role is to create a space where children can use their imaginations, be creative and just play.

Eleanor herself has been with PATH since 2003 and says that it’s always interesting working on different projects. She’s very community minded herself, and grew up playing on Adventure Playgrounds.


Why are Eleanor and PATH so focussed on play?

Life has changed for kids now, Eleanor believes. Children aren’t free to roam about like they used to be – people don’t always feel safe in East London, preferring to keep their children inside or close by. Screens and electronic gadgets have never been so prevalent in children’s lives as they stay inside more and more and even boredom is treated differently, with onus put on parents to spend money on keeping their children entertained at all hours of the day.

As a society we now seem to hurry kids along, putting too much pressure on them and expecting them to grow up too fast. Eleanor sees children get very seriously worried about things and take on too much about the world around them. School piles on pressure and focuses on STEM education – something not everyone is meant for, and the community isn’t necessarily welcoming to the concept of play.

But, as a vital part of our development – almost as important as our five-a-day, Eleanor says, it deserves a place at the heart of the community. Play is brilliant for children’s mental health, for their socialisation and confidence. Through play we gain skills that no one can teach us, skills like resilience, creativity, spatial awareness and adaptability – all things that we need and use in our daily lives. We were all kids once, so it’s something we all have in common, the most social thing we can do.

It’s good for children to be bored sometimes, Eleanor argues, and this is where play comes in! By working to develop children’s imagination and creativity it means the default setting for boredom isn’t simply to sit in front of a screen. This is central to our development, helping children discover different paths in life – and the less we play, the less our ability to imagine develops.

And this kind of play isn’t hard to provide! It doesn’t need to be expensive, it doesn’t need to be rigorous exercise nor adhere to any structure. PATH aims to provide children with simply time, space and freedom to play. Their free sessions work with 5-15 year olds (critical years for development) offering varied activities, involving children in the choices, enhancing their confidence, social skills and imagination.

PATH wants to work with anyone interested in putting children and their play at the heart of the community. They run one play session a week and would love to work with organisations, groups from the community or even individuals who wanted to set up play sessions themselves. It doesn’t take much and they are there to help with the whole process, so if you’re interested in neighbourliness, friendliness, and helping children simply enjoy their childhood, then Eleanor and PATH would love to hear from you!


If this is something you would like to get involved with, please contact them on:

Instagram: playtowerhamlets

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