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The Quangle Wangle Project

Edward Lear inspires artists to tackle funding cuts to Tottenham playground

Sculpture workshops inspired by Edward Lear will run from May 20th, culminating in carnival on July 23rd

At a time of rising childhood obesity, and protests against young people being shackled to their desks for hours, it seems odd that the facilities for active play in Britain are becoming fewer and fewer. But as local authority funding withers away, adventure playgrounds across the country are shutting up shop. Adventure playgrounds need to be staffed, because, as the name suggests, they encourage kids to be adventurous, and these days that goes hand in hand with needing some supervision.

In Haringey, north London, there is just one adventure playground serving the whole borough. Since it lost all its local authority financial support, Somerford Grove Adventure Playground in Tottenham has only been open sporadically and is reliant on project-based funding. At times its staff work for free to make sure it is open at least once per week. But this summer, thanks to a spark of inspiration from an Edward Lear nonsense poem, the playground is running a programme of art workshops to reopen the space, get more youngsters swinging and sliding about, and draw attention to the benefits of active play.

Throughout the summer term and into the holidays, children will be welcomed once a week into the playground to work with local artists to build huge heads of the fantastical characters from Lear’s poem The Quangle Wangle’s Hat. During the sessions, the playground will be open and free for all kids to use. At the end of the project the youngsters will parade their creations around their Northumberland Park neighbourhood in an event that will be attended by community groups from Haringey and lovers of Lear from across London.

The Quangle Wangle’s Carnival, which will take place on July 23rd, is the brainchild of a group of artists and teachers from the area, who were distraught to see tumbleweed take over the much loved play space. Using Lear as a springboard, they aim not only to entertain and educate the kids they’re working with, but also to bring literature lovers into the campaign to protect play for future generations.

Polly Robbins, one of the group behind the project said “Lear was one of my favourite poets as a child. His playful use of nonsense and rhyme allows the imagination to run wild, without getting hung up on grammar and vocabulary. For us Lear’s attitude and style totally embodies the unbridled play encouraged by adventure playgrounds.”

Cathy O’Leary, senior playworker for HarPA (Haringey Play association) said “Since the financial crisis, funding is harder and harder to come by. The adventure playground is the only one in the area, and on sunny days up to 100 children and their families use the space. It’s tragic that we can barely afford to open our gates. Thanks to this project, we’ll be able to serve more kids this summer.”

The group has teamed up with the Edward Lear Society, whose mission is to increase awareness and education of Lear’s life and works. The Society boasts an impressive list of members – testament to the standing of the man himself in British literature and art. Members include radio presenter Nicholas Parsons, naturalist David Attenborough, author Michael Morpurgo and fine art dealer Derek Johns. The Society’s members, perhaps not the most likely visitors to Tottenham’s most deprived ward, will be attending in order to speak about Lear.

Derek Johns, co-founder of the Edward Lear Society said “Whilst he never had children of his own, Edward Lear wrote wonderful nonsense verses which are appreciated today as much as they were in his time. The Society is proud to support such a great initiative which, also thanks to Edward Lear, will bring play, creativity and joy to the children of Tottenham. The ELS plans to promote Lear in schools and organise annual art and literature prizes to be offered to school children.”

Nic McEwan, representing the project said “This is a great opportunity to inject a bit of humour and creativity into what is otherwise a bleak situation. Obesity levels amongst children in Northumberland Park are far higher than the national average and it’s tragic to see places like Somerford Grove close down.”

To learn more about the project and support this great initiative please follow the link: