Baltic Street Adventure Playground is an environment where children are allowed to play freely, without external goal or motivation, with support but without interference. It is a place where children's play is guided by their own needs, curiosities and fears.
We understand that this kind of play can involve children challenging themselves, exploring their limits, and taking risks. Aside from the innate pleasure and satisfaction this kind of play can bring, it can also an important part of children's development, giving them opportunities to make independent decisions, think on their feet, balance risk and reward, and learn to take ownership and responsibility for their actions. They also learn to look out for each other, negotiate potentially complicated situations, and share what they have learnt through trial and error. These kinds of opportunities are increasingly rare in many children's lives.
Equally important to developing these kinds of skills however, are self-confidence, emotional resilience and independence. Children need to feel reasonably safe to play freely, and to make this happen, the emotional and social environment is just as important as the physical one.
Our aim is to create a space where children can test themselves and their environment without genuine fear for their own safety or that of others around them - one which is as safe as necessary.
We make a distinction between potential risks on the one hand, and hazards on the other.
Potential risks are dangers or dangerous situations which children intentionally confront or engage with, where they have opportunity and capacity to measure or understand the likely extent and quality of the danger. The campfire, for example, is a potential risk, as is climbing a tree.
Hazards, on the other hand, are dangers or dangerous situations that children cannot measure or understand, or that they cannot see. Dog mess in the mud, for example, is a hazard, as is a rusty nail concealed in a piece of timber. Hazards are regularly and carefully checked for, and if found, removed or mitigated. Potential risks are allowed, but kept an eye on.
Playworkers who know the site and everything it contains are present whenever the site is open and if they are concerned about a child's safety, they take steps to either allow the child to continue with their play with reduced danger, or intervene to change the course of play.
At the moment, we use a dynamic risk assessment tool developed by PlayWales to support decision making about when to intervene with a child or children's play. It is called The Dynamic Risk Benefit Assessment. We will be developing our own version gradually, which experience from working to this model.
Playworkers watch all activity on the site carefully, asking for help and opinions of other staff and volunteers promptly whenever they are unsure. Whenever possible, play is adapted through suggestion and negotiation, rather than diverted or prevented.
Permanent changes and additions to the physical environment of the playground, and regular activities are comprehensively risk-benefit assessed, and these assessments are updated quarterly.