Category Archives: Think play. Do play

Play in housing consultation


I’ve been working with a local neighbourhood housing forum, using play to help engage local residents in a ‘reg 14 consultation’ on a large housing development. The housing is being built on a large park, which was formally an airport so both the current and former uses have deep play links.

We have built an ‘engagement plane’ as a mobile tool to aid the consultation. The plane serves us in several ways:

  • as a hook- to draw people in to talk to us, it is an unusual object on the street, yet a familiar image in the collective memory of the area.
  • as a recording device. People can respond to the planning proposals by writing on the plane in chalk. The can also use ‘heart’ pins to show activities on the park they love.
  •  as a heritage tool. The space to be developed was an airport and people have very fond memories of it.
  • to solidify the ‘brand’. It is important to be clear to residents, who the group is- a local, voluntary forum, not the local Council. The council and the forum are each consulting on different proposals for the same space, at the same time so clarity is key, as is the message that there is an alternative proposal to the one being offered, and well publicised by the council. The forum’s logo was drawn by local school children, so they already have a DIY, playful, local feel to their brand. A cartoon style, slightly irreverently shaped plane helped to add to this feel and make the forum approachable.
  • to connect with a wider age range. The plane has allowed us to engage many many children in the consultation in a way that formal consultation would not have been possible. In turn this has engaged their parents and empowered young people to use thier voice and be counted. We have also found that older residents enjoy the playful aspect and again, the plane links to their living memory of the airport.

We have toured the plane to several sites in Hengrove and Whitchurch- the car boot sale, the play-park, the local civic centre and a school. The plane caught attention each time and together we learnt how to most effectively engage people in discussion, using the variety of tools we had. I interviewed people with my Zoom h4n recorder. As a professional looking bit of kit, respondents played along with ‘being interviewed’. We tried out other play tools on the street, such as playmobile illustrating activities and pins to point out what was particularly important to you. Alongside the plane we used a model illustrating the two different proposals. This is a relatively common tool in planning consultation, but I was taken by how playful it was. It immediately showed people the impact of the house building and the contrast between proposals. It linked into model making, toy trains and dolls houses, and the colours helped to illustrate. I was impressed how much people connected to the model. At a schools session I asked ‘what are we looking at?” and one girl said “home”.

We ran two sets of sessions at a local school. Beginning with the model and the childrens understanding of the forthcoming development, we talked about how we used the park- how we played and how we travelled across it. I was struck by the specific impact housing had on the children. One housing plan had a great deal of housing very close to the play park- children complained that it would make it more difficult to get to the park. They were aware that the street would be open, but the idea of walking through the housing was unattractive, to some even threatening. They also voiced concerns about the play-park being closed more regularly during the development. Another consideration is the impact residential housing so close to the local skate park. Could the skate park be forced to move, much as inner city music venues are threatened be new housing close-by? The children each wrote a message on paper, to be delivered as part of the consultation. We transformed the paper into aeroplanes and flew them into our engagement plane. The physical action of contributing our thoughts and ideas to such a major change in the local landscape felt very powerful.


This work is contributing to an ongoing study into play in housing campaigning and I will continue to update on what I’m experiencing and learning on these pages. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

playing on the former runway


images by Malcolm Hamilton with kind permission of the people of Whitchurch and Hengrove, plane built by Kerry Russell at In Bristol Studios.

Find out more about the forum and the proposals:

Mufti Games worked with Liz Beth of LB Planning.


What is Mufti?

I’m often asked “what does mufti mean?”

The word is of Arabic origin, from late 16th Century: active participle of ‘aftā ‘decide a point of law’. The mufti is a Muslim legal expert who is empowered to give rulings on religious matters. It’s also a term used to describe civilian dress, especially as worn by a person who normally wears a military uniform. The term is thought to have originated around 1816 ‘perhaps from a mufti’s costume in stage plays, of robes, a fez and slippers, which was felt to resemble plain clothes.’

The last day of school is often known as ‘Mufti Day’ as students can wear their own clothes. In mine and Simon’s schools it was also a day when you could bring your own games in, so Mufti felt like a great name for the company.  As time has gone on, I’ve realised that not every school calls it Mufti Day but the terms reach is both far and sporadic. Simon grew up in Exmouth, me in Manchester but while one school in a city may have Mufti Day another next door may be ‘wear your own clothes day’ or something equally less catchy. What does your school call it? I’d be interested to know where it pops up.

I’ve also been told Mufti relates to a hindi word meaning play, but I can’t verify that yet- perhaps you can help us out?

I found this definition on  ‘Mufti – derived from the Arabic word meaning free, this trench slang was used to point to civilian clothes and was frequently used among officers’

I can’t find any other translation saying Mufti means ‘free’ but it links well to law, freedom to dress how you choose and of course play. Mufti Games work is always free to participate in, thats an important factor for us. We want the work to be as accessible as possible. It’s also why we’ve found our home in the outdoor arts sector, anyone can stumble across our games and join in. Mufti Games believe strongly in the right to play and for everyone to have the freedom to play, no matter their age or background. Finding opportunities to invite play into your life enriches and nourishes, it makes life better. I’ll write more about this subject in another post…

So, ‘mufti’ is:

  • Muslim legal expert
  • Civilian clothes
  • day to play
  • theatre and games company dedicated to accessible, universal play


Heritage and other early years play sessions

We revisited St Pauls Family centre yesterday with Bristol Old Vic to continue experimenting with outreach session for early years/stay and play.

Repeating the session, with some alterations had a very positive impact. We led a less structured workshop and created play stations around the room to investigate ‘hat making’; ticket stamping; set building; object exploration and then later a stage- with curtain. We kept an element of the ‘storytelling’ – the context of theatre, the olden days and what happened in theatres but allowed much more time, and space to react, allowing the flow and rhythm to be child led.

Our clearest discoveries were that a mixture of:

  • historic objects
  • loose parts
  • physical storyteling
  • craft

which allowed for

  • group play
  • individual play
  • performance – both by facilitators and children
  • intergenerational craft activities (and conversation/new relationships as a result)
  • questioning and exploration

Going forward I would like to take this model into public heritage spaces- perhaps the foyer/cafe of Bristol Old Vic after refurbishment.


(pictures to come)

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Leverhulme Retreat at Hawkwood College

I recently spent a week at Hawkwood College on an ‘arts retreat’. The week formed part of a Leverhulme Scholarship I was awarded by Bristol Old Vic Ferment and was paid for by Reckitts Trust, a charity that supports artist to have ‘time to breath in’ as one of the trust so eloquently put it. 

Other than mealtimes our week was not structured- we were to spend it how we wished. As well as the other ‘Bristol Scholars’ we met musicians and spoken word artists linked to Roundhouse, a children’s author finishing his first book for adults and a gaggle of women studying ‘Japanese Embroidery’.

The setting was perfect, a little outside Stroud, ‘over looking the Severn Vale’ in its own woodland. We had the chance to walk, talk, stop and think. We climbed trees, gazed at the stars and worked our way through our own reading lists along with eclectic titles from the Hawkwood library. I particularly enjoyed the Edwardian publications: stories from ancient Rome and a history of the religions of Central and South America. It was the first chance for our group to spend real time together and the cross collaborations- from dinner table chats to practical queries and spontaneous devising sessions were really invigorating. Rachel Clerke and I are both working on projects linked to housing and continued to play the following week.

I spent the first part of the week reading- ‘Play Matters’ by Miguel Sicart is a brilliant, accessible book about play theory and I got stuck into The Negotiation of Hope by Jeremy Till an excellent essay by Jeremy Till about Transformative Consultation in housing development. Just having the space to read and respond in my own time generated a huge amount of material and allowed me to sit back and build a clear plan for a forthcoming project. Being able to sit back and allow space was the most important part of the week. I could let my thoughts float up, bubble-like and slowly move them into constellations, like the Dalai Lama might play Tetris.

By Thursday I was ready to write. I locked myself away in a small room overlooking a garden and let text flow. I hadn’t planned to write necessarily, but the urge took me and I spent hours composing a monologue about the right to play, through the eyes of Arnold Binns- an old friend who will one day form the basis of a show. I would not have written that piece had I not had the time and space afforded by Hawkwood. Emails would have got in the way, or funding applications. Sales and meetings would have distracted me away from creativity. I Often reflect on the lack of space I allow myself to play and to be creative. I ‘make’ play activities and create platforms to encourage others to play but still find myself caught up in the angst of ‘making work’. I left the retreat floating- Emma- our producer- told my wife that it was the first time that she had ever seen me relaxed, yet within a week I was full of stress. In a sense, that was the most helpful thing, because I was able to see how quickly ‘tasks’ had filled me up and subsequently could let them go again. A friend of mine once told me- ‘theres no point in getting stressed- it doesn’t make anything happen any quicker’ but it’s easy to forget that. A week at Hawkwood and a subsequent week back home really helped me remember again. I think I will engrave it on my bureau, along with the full quote from the Reckitts chap “People always want what an artist breaths out, but they forget that to breath out, an artist must also breath in”. Thanks Leverhulme, Hawkwood, Bristol Ferment and Reckkits for allowing me to do just that.


Heritage workshop

I have been working with Bristol Old Vic to devise outreach workshops engaging groups with the theatre’s history. The work is part of a Heritage Lottery Funded programme. We have started by prototyping workshops with family centres that are within walking distance and today we ran a session with St Paul’s Family Centre. The workshop was aimed at pre school (under 4) and their parents.

We wanted to engage people with the heritage of Bristol Old Vic so we wanted to play with the concept of Theatre- both as a building and a format- and history. History is particularly tricky with such young children as time is such an abstract concept. Essentially we played with ‘the olden days’ and ‘theatre’.

We used a variety of play tools and theatre practice in the workshop including role playing, imaginative play, loose parts within a context, craft, dressing up and investigating unusual objects.

We were fortunate to have been able to raid the BOV prop-store and started by inviting the children and parents to investigate and play with objects including an old fashioned phone, bones, candles, a toy trumpet and bellows. This allowed us to think about what the objects were or could be and how they relate to objects today. The phone was a big hit. The bellows proved fun as a movable contraption, also feeling the air. A father talked to us about the bellows he used as a child in Somalia- the size and shape of them and remarked that he hadn’t seen bellows for 27 years! He is going to Somalia soon and has offered to bring some back to the children’s centre so they can use them at the fire pit. It was a wonderful unexpected link into someone’s personal history. The toy trumpet and the telescope were utilised a lot and some children used all their senses to explore the objects. On our next visit we may explore the objects further and leading into stories inspired by them.

We played with the notions of a theatre set and costumes by creating environments with our bodies- the ocean today and then exploring a theatre model box. Using wooden blocks we created our own ‘theatre sets’ including a cafe, a mountain and a volcano!

We made tall hats to wear to the theatre and went on a walk to the Vic, being careful not to step in horse poo along the way! Once ‘inside the theatre’ we distributed tickets, bought sweets (and cockles and pigs trotters!); chose our seats and took turns on the stage. We had animal impressionists, singers, an orchestra, performing horses and dogs, string people and balancers. Great acts, and a brilliant reflection of the Bristol Old Vic programme in 1770! We all enjoyed giving rounds of applause, next time we might do some booing too!

It was reassuring to find that by using playwork and devised theatre tools in a specific context (in this case heritage) worked really well. The different context allowed excitement and wow factor and the embedded interactivity of the methods, plus the fluidity of exercises meant that we could respond quickly to individual needs while also holding the whole group. Next time we’re going to create more ‘stations’ to play in and enjoy revisiting the now familiar objects and format to deepen the exploration in ‘Ye Olde Vic’

Pictures to come soon…..