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Playing At Home

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Wendy Harpe, a co-founder of The Black-E  together with Peter Moores (now Sir Peter Moores) and Bill Harpe, was educated as a teenager at Wennington School, a privilege achieved through the tenacity of her mother and a scholarship from the Greater London Education Authority.  The impact on Wendy of her remarkable educational experience at Wennington School served in the most basic of ways to shape the structure of playschemes at The Black-E.

Wennington, often described as a “progressive'” school, was a cross between  Summerhill, the school founded by A.S.Neil in 1921 which was based on the philosophy that children learn best when free from coercion or compulsion and Bedales.  At Summerhill and at Wennington all lessons were completely optional, with students free to choose what to do with their time. 

The Black-E playschemes  -  which began life just as the word ‘playscheme’ was coming into use and the playscheme movement was getting underway  -  were based on the model of a “progressive” school. So this text applies to the majority of Playschemes which took place within the Blackie  and to many which took place outside the Blackie.  In the latter it was often the organisation we were visiting which provided the 'outside room' - that is a place where young people were able to run around and take part in physical activities - the Blackie provided the 'inside room' - that is workshop activities.

Children attending and participating in the playschemes were free to socialise or chill out with their friends, or to join in recreational play.  The Black-E was an indoor playground, with an inflatable, play and climbing structures, table tennis, snooker, etc, and usually with music to listen or dance to.  These socialising and recreational activities usually took place in what was called ‘the outside room’  -  where there was no pressure on children to do anything at all, they could simply sit and talk privately or have a laugh with their friends, though there were some simple guidelines or rules such as ‘no bullying’ and ‘no abuse’.

In some contrast to ‘the outside room’ there was also ‘an inside room’ into which children might enter and explore after discussing what activities were available.  This was where workshops and tuition were available in areas as varied as film making and video recording, poetry and story writing, painting, weaving, sculpture, etc.  Whilst the artists leading these workshops and sessions sought to make the activities engaging, accessible, and fun, they were also disciplined.  Children were expected to focus and concentrate.  If they failed to do this then they might be asked to leave, though returning later in the day or on another day was always a possibility.

As playschemes were developed, the activities in ‘the outside room’ began to draw participants (adults and children) together into the exploration of a common theme :  to read more about the importance of themes in the Black-E's work click here

Playschemes also mirrored the practice at “free” schools where children might choose to attend staff meetings along with teachers.  Children were also free to attend the weekly staff meetings at The Black-E and to join in discussions about playschemes (and other matters as well), coming up with ideas and suggestions, enthusiasm and criticism, which then informed the future playscheme programme.

For further information on Summerhill,



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