The original “Play Centres” in Stevenage were established in the 1960s by parents. New Town families from London had experienced the developing adventure playgrounds, which arose from the derelict post-war bombsites. In these children played with adult supervision from the mid 50s they were run as Adventure Playgrounds with voluntary management committees, the first was opened at Bandley Hill in 1966 by Donne Buck who moved to Stevenage new town in order to run this the first adventure playground in Hertfordshire.
The Canyon adventure playground then opened in 1968 run by John Speilman, Betty Pickersgill and a group of enthusiastic locals. Chells adventure playground followed in 1969. Donne’s pioneering work in Stevenage resulted in the development of a chain of adventure
playgrounds in the new town.
In 1970 another Adventure Playground was added at Pin Green and St. Nicholas in 1971. These Playgrounds, however, ran into financial difficulties in the mid 1970s and thus begun the Council's involvement. By the end of the seventies, staffing was managed directly by the Council and grant aid was provided towards running costs. The Council also introduced a scheme called the "Play House" at Hertford Road and began a mobile Play Bus project to provide a toddler and afterschool support service in developing areas of the town.
More play centres were started in the eighties as new areas of the town were developed, Symonds Green 1982 and Poplars 1987. The original Adventure Playgrounds each relinquished self-management to become directly controlled by the Council. At our peak at the end of the eighties the Council ran 8 neighbourhood Play Centres and a Play Bus. In addition, during school holidays 6 further Park based Play Schemes and a Play Scheme for children with Special Needs were organised. The eighties saw the development of the outdoor areas at Play Centres, with the installation of large-scale adventure play equipment. Seasonal operating schedules were introduced in the 1980's along with a winter programme of special events called "POW" (Play Over Winter). 1984 the first Parent and Toddler Sessions where held in Stevenage at all the play sites.
Rate capping in the 1990's caused the Council to make huge reductions in its expenditure over several years, particularly 1993/94 when over 150 staff posts were lost from the Authority as a whole. At this time 3 playworker posts were lost with the closure of schemes run at the Canyon and Hertford Road. In 1997, we then lost two further posts with the decommissioning of the Stevenage Play Bus.
At the beginning of the nineties, the Play Section held its first "Sleepover" in conjunction with Stevenage Museum. It was a great success and two more were organised in subsequent years. Activity holidays for disadvantaged children continued to be organised. Children's information forms were introduced to keep detailed records of names and addresses; and in conjunction with the HCC under eights initiative, children with special needs have been encouraged to take part and become integrated on our open access Play Schemes. In 1998 the Council redirected some of the play resources from Playwork to Youth Work. Term time weekday Play Centre opening hours were reduced and new evening Youth Clubs were established and support provided to the Herts County Council Youth Service within their existing clubs. A new Toddler Groups Support Project was initiated to support existing groups and develop new groups toward self-management. In 1999 external Leisure consultants concluded a Play and Youth Service Review which resulted in a refocusing of the service back onto Playwork and a restructuring of the Play Section.
There are 3 Neighbourhood Play Centres which run afterschool Tuesday to Friday and Saturdays in term time and Monday to Friday and during school holidays. These are Pin Green, Bandley Hill and St. Nicholas
The Play Centres have supportive Play Associations and are also supported by Stevenage Play Action Network
The Canyon continues to operate independently in school holidays with grant aid from the Council.
‘Waiting at the Gates’
film was a project that children attending Stevenage playcentres, and holiday playschemes, the Play Development Officer, play staff and Rewind films have had lots of fun working on. The process started with a short film asking for memories and anecdotal tales, then with old photos and small exhibitions past playworkers and children who attended the schemes shared their memories and the film making began. With filming taking place all through the seasons and at all the holiday playschemes and playcentres, and historical footage that had either been found in the archives of play, or private collections in order for the film to take shape.
The end result is a film that tells a fascinating story of community action to help provide vital spaces for children to explore, play and grow, focusing on 1968 – current day.
For those wishing to see it,
this film is on display in Stevenage Museum.