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1. A Note on Language and Definition        
2. The Context and Background of the first Adventure Playground        
3. The emergence of British Adventure Play 4. How Adventure Play developed in Britain
4. How Adventure Play developed in Britain  

From Camberwell to Clydesdale…

Following the success of the experimental junk playground in Camberwell, a second junk playground was opened in Clydesdale Road, North Kensington, London. This second playground was started by Ruth Littlewood and opened in 1952 (Lady Allen joined the Clydesdale Playground Committee in 1951 before it had opened). The report on the first session of the Clydesdale Road Junk Playground stated:

“On March 17, 1952, the playground was opened, under the leader whose vigour and enthusiasm (and picturesque American shirts) made an immediate appeal to the children. The intention had been to concentrate on the age-range 5 to 10, but the older and younger children were eager to come in too, and experience showed that it was possible to cater for a very mixed group. There were fights, particularly over the possession of tools, but real crises were rare. Indeed, it was often surprising to see how many activities were going on at close quarters, without serious friction, even when the playground was crowded to capacity. The youngest children might be riding a trolley down the slopes or digging in a somewhat aimless fashion with sticks or trowels; while the older boys were working at a pick-and-shovel excavation, the girls were playing some housekeeping game around the huts, and various mixed groups were making bonfires, or hammering boards or diligently helping the leader to construct a brick seat against the boundary wall…It is evident that the help children get from the play-leader is useful to the emotionally as well as practically. In a child’s world, a friendly adult who exerts a minimum of authority and is generous with his time and attention, may be something of a rarity; and the children respond as if they have been waiting for just this sort of friendship”

Then in December 1952 The Times published an article on juvenile crime. Lady Allen wrote to the editor, extolling the virtues of junk playgrounds. What emerged from the various correspondence was that the two junk playgrounds, at Camberwell and Kensington, had never known about each other (despite them both experiencing the same problems).

The Playground Committee

Lord Luke, Chairman of the National Playing Fields Association (NPFA), then wrote to The Times inviting people to a meeting. Lady Allen and others attended the NPFA meeting in February 1953. It was agreed that the NPFA would consider contributing a grant toward the leader’s salary at the Kensington Junk Playground, but the NPFA were reluctant to offer grants for short lease sites (which both of the adventure playgrounds were).  The NPFA also agreed to print a pamphlet that Lady Allen had prepared regarding junk playgrounds. This pamphlet included why playgrounds were needed and described what they were like (this was produced just after Lady Allen had changed the name from junk or waste material playgrounds to adventure playgrounds):

“How does an Adventure Playground differ from the usual playground? There is no asphalt, no see-saws, swings or slides, except those created by the children themselves out of waste material freely available on the site or by the terrain of the playground itself. The main difference is that the children are given facilities which are the spur to their creative abilities and to their love of fun and inventiveness…The Adventure Playgrounds described here are intended for children between the ages of 6 and 18 who want, in addition to a rough playground, to have the opportunity of doing tough jobs of real work that will stretch their abilities to the full. Opportunities to build real houses with roofs, chimneys and furniture, to dig and cultivate their won gardens, to keep pets, to make fires, dam streams, build dirt tracks, perhaps evolve a theatre, carve and shape wood, mould clay and dig wells and caverns. In short, to evolve their own activities, to begin or stop a job as they wish without censure; to be free to play simple games of housemaking, or hair-raising adventures, to gang or not to gang, to read solitarily under a tree, to cook or eat improvised meals, and to be ready – in fact eager – to do jobs that will earn money and enable them to buy extra tools, roller skates, or other equipment for their own playground…”

This pamphlet generated a “flood of enquires” (Lady Allen of Hurtwood, 1975). From these enquiries it was agreed that some kind of central organization was required. Four of the Clydesdale Road Adventure Playground (the only adventure running at this time) Committee were interested in setting up this central organization: Lady Allen of Hurtwood, Harold Marshall, Ruth Littlewood and Mary Nicholson. At the behest of this group of dedicated people, the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington convened a public meeting in which approximately 200 people attended. There were three speakers: Lady Allen of Hurtwood, Lord Luke of the NPFA and Sir George Pepler, a town planner. At this meeting, a motion was carried to set up a national body to co-ordinate adventure playgrounds.

Lord Luke offered the protective arm of the NPFA for the new national organization. However there were concerns what this would involve and whether the NPFA would understand the precise nature of adventure playgrounds. However the small group agreed and the Playground Committee of the NPFA was formed.

The chairman of the newly formed Playground Committee of the NPFA was Lieutenant-General Sir Fredrick Browning. Although there were disagreements, the NPFA agreed to give two substantial grants for two adventure playgrounds (one in the north and one in the south). They also agreed to appoint a member of staff, for one year, to deal with enquiries about adventure playgrounds. 

Adventure Play spreads across the country

Clydesdale Road Adventure Playground continued to be a success and adventure playgrounds also started in Liverpool, Grimsby and Bristol.

In September 1954, the London County Council offered the Playground Committee of the NPFA a site in Lambeth. This was originally just off of Lollard Street, running between Lambeth Walk and Kennington Road. The Lollard Street Adventure Playground started in April 1955, despite some opposition from local residents.

In 1957, Drummond Abernethy joined the Playground Committee of the NPFA. He became a significant figure within adventure play and started the very first playleadership training n Thurrock. He remained an enthusiast and stalwart of adventure play up until his death in 1988.

LAPA is formed

In 1962, the London adventure playgrounds needed a more active centralised body and so the London Adventure Playground Association (LAPA) was formed. LAPA consisted of two representatives from each of the four existing adventure playgrounds in London. LAPA developed a good relationship with the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) who funded a block grant for play-leader salaries. From the beginning, LAPA was focussed upon ensuring that the adventure playgrounds avoided the “mistakes of the past”, but also to co-ordinate enquiries, funding, equipment, insurance, contracts etc.

Lady Allen of Hurtwood served as the chairperson of LAPA for ten years. She was helped by many, including Anne Viney (Voluntary Secretary) and Marjorie Holmes (who took over the LAPA chair once Lady Allen had stood down).

Unmet needs…

However within her ten years as chair of LAPA, Lady Allen became aware that the adventure playgrounds were inaccessible to one group of children, namely children with disabilities. In 1964 Lady Allen became chair of the Centre for Spastic Children in Chelsea holiday clubs. The holiday clubs that were run were a huge success and the committee began to develop an adventure playground specifically for children with disabilities. Lady Allen took the chair of a small band of people who helped create the very first adventure playground for children with disabilities.

In February 1970 the Chelsea Adventure Playground for children with disabilities opened. It was based interestingly in the garden of the Rural Dean of Chelsea, the Reverend Harold Loasby.

Based on the success of the Chelsea Adventure Playground, a new group was soon formed: The Handicapped Adventure Playground Association (HAPA). HAPA started a further 5 adventure playgrounds.

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5. From then to now