Sunday, 27 March 2011

pet and joan and play

Adventure Playgrounds appear on the scene during the gray days of the 1950s. They where the brain child of a wonderful individual Joe Benjamin.Joe observed the importance of play in the development of young people. He focused on the role of play for the inner city child. After the second world war Britain under went a major social shift with development of the Welfare State. The pre war society was fast vanishing,indeed whole communities where being reshaped under the impact of greater mobility and class fragmentation. Secure communities with their strong historical roots in neighbourhood and family ties secumed to new work practices and greater spending power of the working class who wanted to move into the middle class strata of ambition and security. The ruins of war still scared the city land scape, and out of theses ruins that a new dimension in play arose. Adventure Play. Play for young people always took place away from the household onto the streets.It was on the streets that identifies were formed ,friendship made and broken and exploration took place.But with the advent of the moter car and greater investment in public transport the streets became increasingly unsafe. Indeed whole communities became cut off from each other"kids"had to be careful of the roads otherwise they would be mowed down by cars or lorries. It was in the space left by the bombs that Joe saw the opportunity to allow kids to explore and play.Ruins have always held a fascination for humans and children.On bomb sites all around England children could transform their realities. All those vast derelict spaces created a magical landscape in which creative chaos was given free rain.In the heart of urban communities a forest of wonder sprung into life. Danger and exploration became the norm! Working class children could share in adventures which only middle class or upper class children could explore. In the ruins of war lay the untapped secrets and overwhelming creativity of children's dreams and wild adventures. Jo convinced local Governments to fund schemes where by adults,community workers and artists could work with children, on ruined sites in order to help the child to explore and develop the notion of play and responsibility. Over time the Utopian wonderland run out of steam and became sites of social control. But not before the influx of a new breed of Urban radical came into the picture. Artists and hippies arrived with even weirder ideas than the children could conjure up. Whilst at the same time the cultural scene began to blossom into ideas embracing radical,alternative politics and radical ideas with regards art and its "manufacture" The Arts Labs had arrived. Suddenly everyone could create a dream.Play had moved from children into adults.Creativity shaped a whole rang of social radical philosophy.Politics and play power intertwined into versions of anarchic meanings. Something was shifting but no one knew what or where these chaotic and exciting ideas where really about except fun, danger and exploration. A new force emerged a process which is at the core of play Improvisation had arrived.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

pondering Pete and Joan

Before moving on I want to go over some thoughts re "Youth Clubs".The history of the youth club movement is,in a sense, the history of changing attitudes with the mentality of a conservative England. Youth clubs developed from an idealisation of Edwardian England and the fear of the working classes uniting to over throw an existing class structure. Like the Scout movement, the youth club ideals represented the sense of continuity within the united kingdom and Empire.Youth clubs acted as a buffer between social unrest and social order.It was important to maintain a sense of identity based upon the invented histories of the past.Social distinction existed with the very fabric of the youth club ideology.
This distinction was high lighted by the apartheid attitude towards sex. Girls and boys were to be kept separated by a system of rules club regulations. Sex was a no go field of play.
Post war England began a slow transformation from Empire towards a second tier player in world affairs.If we look at popular culture we begin to notice a shift with the social thinking of the market place.Within music, film and fashion a new market was opening up.But the youth club movement still clung onto pre war notions of class distinctions.
Other developments began to filter into the closed world of a male dominated movement which used masculinity as a by word for preserving the values of a club ethos based upon an unchanged,unblemished code of class distinction. Girls began to appear more and more in the discourse of popular culture.Even within Oval House sexual separation was maintained by insuring activities appropriate to sexual orientation where embedded into the fabric of the club.
Out side the ethos of the youth club other movements were taking hold. Community work/action began to question the ideals of democracy,community engagement, and the very ideas of what is a community. Community democracy under mined the settled notion of a conservative country at ease with it self .
But for me a bigger development took hold.One which affected the course of Oval House and helped formulate the ideals of creativity and the challenge to paternalistic authority.That movement was the Adventure Playground movement....more on this tonite.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

touched by fire and the start of Oval House

The history of Oval House,its transformation from a Youth Club, in the old sense of the description into an educational/community/arts project began with the inspiration of Pete and Joan Oliver.This transformation is important in understanding just how brave these two pioneers where back in those distant days.
Indeed the whole history of the Oval is one of evolution/struggle and sometimes breathtaking luck.Oval House came into being as part of a do gooding project instigated within the privileged surroundings of Christ Church Oxford.
At the turn of the 20th century,privileged young men would descend into areas of poverty and inner city deprivation in order to grasp the meaning of helping the deserving poor.Giving the poor some sort of moral understanding of how the poor could escape their plight.Its a fascinating history which brings to mind the Conservative ideology of the "Big Society".Running along side the ideology of privilege imposing values upon the lower orders, came another imposition, the need to save fallen women,or women who might be in danger of "falling"Settlements where set up with the aim of training the poor in the ways of domestic servitude. These Settlements of privilege helping the unprivileged became a steeping stone into the Anglican tradition and Establishment values of Edwardian England. They also became useful recruiting centres for the killing fields of the first World War.And importantly they where bastions against the fear of working class solidarity and the threat of some imagined socialist uprising. Its important to understand the link between these settlements and the growth of the boys scout movements.
A genuine moral panic existed between the wars.Something akin to a fear of the other within insured a rigid adaptability to Conservative values,and, by implication the invented values of Empire where adhered to.
The settlements where developed within a society of extraordinary class conflict and hierarchical imaginings.
Like the Youth Club developments , Settlements held to the idea that social change was something which could not be contemplated. Satus and respect for ones betters meant a fossilised social order would and should be maintained. Any hint of disruption within the bureaucratic boundaries laid down by committee of elders would be dealt with by various punishments including exclusion from the club/settlement. Social,class difference was dealt with simply by not acknowledging the existence of such deviation from the rules of the establishment.Sport and a heavy reliance on competition and religion allowed for a bullying atmosphere akin to Social Darwinism to develop. Sexual apartheid was the norm and religion was the the tool in which to the teach the rights and wrongs of moral anxieties. This is just a sketch of what Pete and Joan had to confront.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Pete and Joan

Before moving on into the recent past I must go back a bit a talk about Pete and Joan Oliver, Pete and Joan started Oval House in the idea we know. Its a fascinating history involving struggle, planning, rebellion and play.
What people seem to forget is Oval House was a Youth Club. Get back latter.

starting another "touched by fire"

Intro into another time.1984.If I'm correct this was the year when deregulation became law. Regan and then Thatcher deregulated the banking system and the world was turned upside down.No one knew the rotten devastation that was about to be unleashed on society and culture.
In this country greed started its long march into the conscious of people minds. Individualism began to eat away at the very foundations of collective/community identity. Something new had arrived and people dident really understand the onslaught gathering on the horizones.
Culture was about to implode, never the less deep in the under growth ideas and talk of equality and sexual identity, gender politics and race played themselves out in the field of confrontational politcs. Back then things were raw to the core. We sesed the arrival of something wicked but we couldent articulate the shadows moving into the focus of ideas.
Back then Roz Price hit upon the concept of creating a Carnival Band within Oval House. Back then Oval House was commited to community arts,creative play,improvisation and experimentation. Back then we attempted to encourage challange. And back then we quistioned the very idea of the cultural industries. After all most of us had grapled with Adorno. Back then we were commited to change. Change dident send shivers down our spines. Back then we saw outselves as some sort of welcoming party to age of insurrection. We had expreiance of street theatre and the concept of destruct and construct. We were not afraid of our own egos.
We knew the value of space and its place in within the evolution of creativity. We did things more different then. We welcomed people. Ideas were a challange. we were never conservative.
Back then we were radical and carring. W dident bother with reputation. We did things in another way back then.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Must be the coming of the New Age

I seem to picking the sponge of unwelcome emotions.In the land of the cultural industries people are unusually tense at first I didn't understand what the anxiety was all about, but late one cold night the truth dawned.Something wicked is coming down the track,something savage and spiteful.Cut backs are a reality creeping ever closer to the front door of most "arts organisations"
Somebody asked me the other day what I thought the Conservatives believed in when the idea of culture crops up in their minds.Its easy to dismiss the Conservative as having no aesthetic values what so ever,they do and they are deep rooted in the culture of mass consumerism which exemplifies middle England. What then is that aesthetic? In its simplistic form you can view it on BBC 4 or BBC 2 or Channel 4 or Radio 4 or the Sunday colour supplements.Its a form of lazy inquisitiveness. A relaxing way to see ones life and hobbies laid out in unworrying formats. Within this comforting spectacle is the values of mass culture for the Sunday morning seekers of identity.
The other Sunday I went over to the Tate Britain to wander around and take in an exhibition. I was in no need of inspiration or challenge, all I wanted to do was wonder and stroll.
Unfortunately I hit middle England in all its damning boringness.On mass they appeared. why?
Maybe the Culture Show recommend something. The Conservatives like their Culture secure and comfortable.To challenge is to awaken some deeper violence. Violence is at the base of middle England's search for security and pleasure.Safety against the unwelcome other lingers at the door way of their homes. Things go bump in the night and this phenomena happens all the time.In order to remain rational Conservative values must have enemies, but these enemies cannot intrude into the reality of a world based on consumption.Middle England consumes and Conservatives wreck.That's the value of the aesthetic which middle England refuses to confront.It must be told what to enjoy.