Staff games have been at the heart of The Black-E’s cultural programme since 1967. But the two words ‘staff games’ are something of a misnomer. For although everyone on the staff participates in these weekly games, the sessions are open to guests and frequently also to everyone in the building at the time the games are taking place. Young children, teenagers, visiting artists, visiting companies, and expected and unexpected guests and visitors have all participated in staff games. Participants would not know the details or the nature of the game in advance, this was always something of a surprise. Watching the games was not an option. Everyone attending became a player.
However, the two words ‘staff games’ have stuck, possibly because these games are the dynamo at the heart of the cultural programme and an essential commitment for everyone on the staff. Once a week, all staff - whether working on accounts, fund raising, building maintenance, administration, or the cultural programme - come together to play a game or games. For more than thirty years the staff games session occupied a special and dedicated place in the weekly programme - everything else stopped for staff games and no other activity took place in the building while the games were being played.
Today the building is shared, and the staff games may now take place in one area of the building while other activities may be taking place in other areas. Preserving the time each week to play games together can now be a challenge and a struggle. But the benefits of playing such weekly games are both immediate and long term. Some of these benefits are described in the publication ‘ Why Games ?’ .
Over 45-plus years all - and more - of the genres of games described in the publication ‘Games For The New Years – A DIY Guide To Games For The 21st Century’ have been explored in the staff games sessions. Sometimes these sessions have been in a series exploring a common theme. Sometimes the sessions have piloted and refined games which would then be played in larger arenas for both participants and audiences. Sometimes the games have been one-off’s to celebrate or mark an occasion or event. As the dynamo or engine which drives and informs The Black-E’s work, these games serve to put participation and engagement and cultural diversity at the heart of the cultural programme.
Competitive games for individuals and teams - with both winning and losing individuals and teams - remain very much the cultural norm. A parallel body of games which provide challenges to individuals and teams but which promote co-operation - and create no separate groups of winners and losers - does not yet exist (or perhaps remains to be rediscovered). Challenging yet co-operative games are very much ‘off the radar’ in our culture.
The creation at The Black-E over 4 decades of a body of challenging yet co-operative games was led by Bill Harpe, Wendy Harpe and Sally Morris - with Barbara Harkin (later Barbara Putt), Neil Johnson, Martin Brems, and Stevie Smith (now Steven Abd Al-Hadi Smith) among others contributing to this creation. Staff games are being led today (2014) by Bill Harpe and by Maria Paul.