30 October 1998



Half term, time to play

and time for the

Brecknock Play

Network to head out

into the country to bring

play facilities to rural

children. Ann Rogers

went to Brecon to find

out more about the


The summer of 98 may have been sunnier than we recall. Certainly Marian Guthries photographs of youngsters at play include plenty of shots taken out in the sunshine – lively pictures of children grouped around a huge circle of silk playing the parachute game, trying out new toys, dressing up, and posing in elaborate masks made from household scraps.

Marian is the development worker for the Brecknock Play Network and many of the children in her photographs are from scattered farms and isolated villages across the county – the children who have enjoyed BPNs rural play days.

During the school holidays Marian and colleagues load up a borrowed Transit van and set off to keep appointments in schools and village halls where children gather to enjoy themselves with the contents of the van and the company of the local children they may not otherwise have had a chance to meet between school terms

Besides providing them with access to fresh playthings, the scheme offers group play, messy play and a variety of craftwork. All ages, from babes in arms to teenagers, are catered for and play is helped along by playworkers.

The childrens mothers are encouraged to get involved and play sessions are social occasions for parents too. They provide opportunities for mums to meet and chat which, for the farmers wives among them, is particularly useful in these difficult times, says Marian – a time when toys and holidays are off many families agendas.

Getting people to realise the importance of play in childrens lives is a major part of her work. "Fun, fitness and friendship," is how she sums up play but it goes far deeper than that. Childhood experiences have lasting effects on peoples lives and the Brecknock Play Network, a small charity begun in 1994, works to give the children of Brecknock-shire happy and constructive experiences to build their lives on.

Marian took up her post a few months after BPN began. Her husband Peter is the secretary of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society and before joining BPN Marian worked at home, caring for their two sons, now aged 16 and 20, raising stock on the familys smallholding and running a cake baking business.

Among Marians current tasks is organising training for playworkers, such as courses on first aid and food hygiene and specialised topics like behavioural difficulties, the integration of special needs children into play schemes and programme presentation. Bringing play workers together results in fresh ideas and fresh enthusiasms.

The network initiates new play schemes and provides support for struggling ones especially with paperwork, grant applications and matters of that kind.

Finding funding for the activities is another of Marians major concerns. "We have all the problems in the area but not the numbers," she says of the rural community. There are no industries to call upon. Marian seeks grants from local authorities or government departments, and applies to trusts and charities who may have money for specific projects. She also seeks donations from local organisations. Often there is no response, or one saying they are unable to help. But she refuses to let this get her down as she seeks the £27-28,000 needed each year to keep the show on the road.

This does not include her salary. Finding that is someone elses responsibility and Marian is used to working on short term contracts. At the moment she is assured of her post until May 99 but her activity planning goes far beyond that.

&#42 Visiting bear

"We had Pudsey Bear here last week," she said when Farmlife called at the offices of Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations in Brecon where Marian operates from a colourful cubby-hole.

Pudsey Bear, the mascot of BBC Children in Need, visited Brecon on a promotional visit with co-ordinator Jenny Lewis. The BPN receives support from Children in Need to help develop its work with special needs children.

This is where Janet Brooking, a qualified teacher who joined the network at the beginning of August, comes into the picture – and the Penmaes Playscheme is one of the networks successes in this field.

Play sessions were run in Ysgol Penmaes where special needs children were joined by siblings and friends two days a week for four weeks of the summer holidays. This also gave carers a little respite.

The network often joins forces with other charities, organisations or local authority services to extend play opportunities for Brecknocks children. A good example of this is the toy library for the pre-school to eight year olds which opened in May this year in Brecon Library through a partnership with Powys Library Service. Here a wooden chalet, the sort usually found in gardens, has been set up in the childrens section of the library. Volunteers open it up each Saturday morning and children can borrow toys for a fortnight at a time. The Mothers Union has also lent support to this project by cataloguing and referencing each toy and each part of a toy. Toy borrowing is proving popular and also stimulating childrens interest in book borrowing.

&#42 Two play schemes

The network runs two play schemes for the under fives and at the other end of the scale runs a summer holiday teenscheme for the 12 to 15 year olds of Builth Wells. At this age youngsters are not looking for toys but action. Canoeing and rock climbing are the type of thing laid on for them.

"But we are still very much on a learning curve. Next year, instead of picking them up from the school we might collect them from their own meeting places, a bus stop or a cafe," adds Marian who has one or two other ideas up her sleeve to ensure that Brecknocks children make the most of their playtime.

Marian Guthrie and Janet Brooking of the Brecknock Play Network clear up after showing youngsters some of the

toys that can be borrowed from Brecon library.