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Latchkey Kids at Play

Projects like these are the ones we live for. In our early years PlayOn developed a series of urban PlayScapes for the JHC - Johannesburg Housing Company - who had set up a special division of their organization called Makhulong A Matala - meaning Greener Pastures in Sesotho. Makhulong was created with the sole purpose of uplifting the many densely populated high-rise buildings that sprawled downtown Joburg and to bring a ‘spirit of living in a village’, a spirit of ubuntu.
The children living in these buildings have always had the hallways, stairwells and rooftops as their playground. Apartment gates for climbing bars, bannisters for slides and rooftops for soccer fields became too noisy and chaotic for the many hardworking residents coming off long day and often night shifts. And just as tensions and frustrations escalated, a little boy was badly hurt from electrocution in a game of rooftop soccer. And the JHC was quickly moved to action.
Our first project in this series was one of our emotional anchors in the play industry. A reassurance that this was the space for us.  The brief was simply to convert one of the buildings’ apartments into a designated PlaySpace. Installation took about a week and on the last day I came along for the ride to see the handover. The children had come to expect Colin because as we pulled in to the big black gate,  he rolled down his window, didn't bother ringing any bell and just said… ‘shhhh listen…’
It was like a thunderstorm. First the shuffling of feet echoing across the halls, then whistling as the children who had been watching out notified the others and then the banging and drumming as excited legs came flying out of apartments and down stairs from all levels of the building. Colin responded with his own excitable whistles and banging the side of his car door and hooter. So gratifying seeing again and again someone doing the work they were born to do.
Each child no matter how big or small carried the giant blocks up to the locked playroom door. Colin laid down the final pieces and revealed the little wonderland of wall to wall equipment, soft, spongy, colourful flooring, swings and climbing grips going up a mural of a great big friendly Boabab tree that covered the wall... providing a welcoming home to its many little creatures.
The energy had exploded. The children were overwhelmed with excitement bordering on disbelief as they explored a space most of them didn’t know could exist.
And then... the best moment of the story - a tiny little boy came up to Colin's extra long legs and signaled for him to bend down. At over 6 foot, he looked down and surrounded by a kind of manic excitement, dropped to his knees to be within earshot. The little boy said… ‘yesterday I did dream of this place.’ And that had been Colin's dream. To give that moment to that boy and to the many others since then.

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