Some of our members had the pleasure of visiting the good folk of Baltic Street Adventure Playground in Dalmarnock this week. What started out as safe play space for local kids has evolved into so much more than that - they now have among other things a petting zoo, a kitchen to cook free, healthy food for kids using the playground, and a community hub which donates bags of kitchen staples in a non-judgemantal and non-means-tested setting. These people are the epitome of community spirit and kindness and we could not have been happier to donate some healthy food to them.
1. Tell us about how it all started and a little more about Baltic Street.
The playground started off with funding from the Commonwealth Games. Create London and Assemble, a Turner Prize winning Arts organisation, identified the need for outdoor playspace in Dalmarnock and the organisation began in 2013. It is now led by the local community and the children who attend.
We provide a free open access play space throughout the year where children have as much leadership as possible and develop the space daily.
We also operate a non-referral community food hub where we provide free meals to over 250 families per week.
We keep a variety of animals including rabbits, ducks, and snakes.
2. How many people are involved in your organisation?
There are 7 permanent members of staff including the Nursery & Playground and Site Operations managers. They are supported by 5 sessional workers and over 20 volunteers. There is also a Board of Trustees.
3. Tell us a little about the things you do to support the local community.
We provide supervised, safe outdoor play for children - giving children a better chance of having a more fulfilled, joyful and satisfying experience of day-to-day life. Play is the evolved mechanism for learning, through which children establish, explore and test the relationship between themselves and others, and between mind, body and the physical world. It's fundamental to children’s development, and to their sense of their place in the world and wider community.
In 2018, we received funding from Inspiring Scotland to work in partnership with local nurseries to promote the outdoors in the East End of Glasgow. From 2018 - 2020 Baltic Street supported 6 local nurseries to develop their practice in working outdoors in local greenspaces in and around the East End, as well as hosting family play sessions for children under 5 on the playground and in the parks. Off the back of this project, Baltic Street is now in the process of setting up our own fully outdoor nursery provision on the playground as well as delivering training to early years settings in best practice for working outdoors.
Outdoor play at Baltic Street
We’ve always provided food free of charge for the young people using the playground. Four years ago we sought funding to start a Community Food Membership with Fareshare, which along with other donations allowed us to develop the Food Hub to support with food supplies away from the playground, and also start an inter-generational food project. It’s grown from there - we now facilitate a local food hub, and the children help us prepare and deliver hot homemade meals to older, less-mobile members of the community too. We are now providing over 500 hot meals per day during school holidays, including up to 8 different dishes, catering for all diets and tastes.
We have a community garden space, and supplement the meals we make with fresh produce grown in the garden and in our polytunnels.
We keep a variety of animals, including chickens, ducks, guinea pigs and rabbits. The children help to look after the animals, with regular handling, feeding and cleaning out – it’s a great way for them to learn compassion, care and responsibility. The birds are free to roam during opening hours so you may find them having a dust bath underneath a swing or looking for worms in a den!
4. How do you think the lockdown has affected your organisation and your role in the wider community?
We had to close the playground for a time and have opened up gradually, though still limiting adult numbers during school holidays. We had to adapt our premises and staff patterns and ways of working.
There was a real increase in food poverty and food insecurity within the community at this time; through emergency food distribution during lockdown we were a constant presence in the community, providing over a quarter of a million meals.
We have also seen a massive increase in mental health issues, and this is something we deal with on a daily basis.
5. What steps do you think need to be taken to improve children’s health?
There should be more free outdoor play facilities for children where they can be given the opportunity to explore, take risks and be involved in the decision-making process.
We need to invest in community programmes that will support children and families living in poverty year round and not just during school holidays.
Healthy, nutritious food needs to be affordable and accessible to all.
6. You can pick one chef/person to come and work with you, who is it and why?
Ainsley Harriot because of his huge personality and the fact that he is all about people, rather than himself. His recipes offer a huge amount of diversity and he seems like such a fun person.
Find out more about Baltic Street Adventure Playground at balticstreetadventureplay.co.uk