Ute Navidi, London Play

Describe your role
As Chief Executive of London Play, I am responsible for both the strategic development and management of this small but highly effective children’s charity which this year is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Our mission is simple: working for a capital where all children can play. With partners in the London boroughs and at regional level, we support the development of high quality, accessible play provision, including adventure playgrounds, counter the shrinking outdoor play opportunities, and campaign to change public attitudes to children and young people enjoying and playing in public spaces like parks. We also want to see school playgrounds opened up for play after school and on weekends. The London Play team is highly experienced, providing updates on play policy, advice, and good practice examples, bringing down barriers to play and developing cutting edge innovative play projects. Elected as Vice President for Europe of the International Play Association: Promoting the Child’s Right to Play, I also contribute, in a voluntary capacity, to global efforts to promote and realise the child’s right to play under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

What makes a good participation worker?
London Play does not have a participation worker. Our work is at ‘second tier level’ which means we support other organisations in London’s play sector. I think a good participation worker is one who takes the lead from children and helps them make their aspirations come true.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
As a pan-London organisation that does not work directly with children and young people, we struggle to involve them directly and meaningfully in most of our work. Some say that it would be tokenistic, that we would raise false expectations, as children would not be able to see the difference their involvement makes. But I can’t help feeling that there is also a sense of unease about letting children have more power in determining policies and practice affecting what London’s play spaces could look like. Though change is coming: from April 2009, children and young people’s right to assess local play opportunities is guaranteed through a new National Performance Indicator for local authorities.

What are the benefits?
London Play’s Adventure Playground of the Year Award programme involves children who nominate their playground, and as judges on the selection panel. They are the play experts and know what makes a good and welcoming setting where they can feel it’s their space. Their critiques are fed back to the playgrounds to help them improve provision.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
I’d say that organisations need to open up more, be more prepared to share decision-making, and be more creative in creating meaningful ways in which children can be involved in designing, planning and delivering children’s services, including play. Children come up with lots of new questions and answers, and with a fresh perspective. Just do it, feel the difference, and have fun.

What is effective participation?
Participation, in my view, can be judged to be effective when children and young people’s views are respected and treated as equally important as those of adults. The ultimate test is, however, whether the outcome of the activity leads to real, visible improvements in children and young people’s lives.

Participation Works is a partnership of…
British Youth CouncilChildren's Rights Alliance for EnglandKIDSNational Council for Voluntary Youth ServicesNational Youth AgencyNCB