The play’s the thing when it comes to making employees

Children from Milton Keynes Play Association visit the Marshall Amps factory to see where the wooden discs they use for art and craft come from.'Credit: Nick Wilkinson / newsteam.co.uk'19/05/2011

Children from Milton Keynes Play Association visit the Marshall Amps factory to see where the wooden discs they use for art and craft come from.'Credit: Nick Wilkinson / newsteam.co.uk'19/05/2011

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IF you think play is something just for children, think again!

Milton Keynes Play Association (MKPA) has used play to help create happy workplaces.

MKPA, based in Burners Lane, Kiln Farm, has been around for 40 years and is therefore almost as old as the new city itself.

It is a charity mainly offering services involving play for children and young people in Milton Keynes. But in a world where grants and donations are likely to be under pressure, they are looking at ways to increase their income.

Andy Grout, MKPA’s chief executive, reckons play has long-term importance for society, including businesses.

He said: “Children who play outdoors doing the sorts of activities we provide, will become less risk averse, will improve their social skills, leadership skills, creativity and it can also have an effect on literacy and numeracy. Which will be of benefit in later life.”

The walls in the reception area of the association are covered in pictures of children enjoying themselves, including taking occasional risks.

Young children are pictured hammering nails into pieces of wood and learning how to work with fire.

Mr Grout explained that the children themselves, let alone their parents, approach such risks with a trepidation unknown to older generations.

“But as soon as they learn that they can do these things without being hurt their confidence increases and they are able to assess risks.”

He added that employees with families can build cohesion at home through the communication that play gives within the family unit.

MKPA has piles of equipment which can be used for corporate family days as well as professional play workers.

Mr Grout said: “We have used play to make corporate environments more playful – happy healthy workplaces. This could be important in the current climate where keeping staff happy could be a priority.”

The association, which started life as a community group but became a charity, has strong links with the business community.

The charity’s Scrapstore contains piles of clean and unusual waste, things that children use their imaginations with.

One of the Scrapstore’s biggest supporters is iconic Milton Keynes business, Marshall Amplification. They cut holes in wooden boxes for their world renown speaker systems. The circular scraps are sent to MKPA for children to use in all sorts of ways, including painting.

Mr Grout added: “Play is such a critical part of a child’s development that the United Nations (UN) have recognised this in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), where it declares that we all must, “…recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities.

“Milton Keynes Play Association recognises the importance of these rights and through play, we do all that we can to aid a child’s capacity to develop social skills, build relationships, progress as individuals and keep healthy at the same time.”

But MKPA believes play is in danger of disappearing. They say 42 per cent of children say they have never made a daisy chain, 32 per cent have never climbed a tree, a quarter of children today have never had the simple pleasure of rolling down a hill and one in 10 children have never ridden a bike.

MKPA provides support to its own staff and volunteers, schools, private and community organisations and individuals who work with children and young people aged 4 – 14 in and around Milton Keynes and the surrounding villages.

The charity works closely with a numbers of other bodies also providing services to children and young people such as Milton Keynes Council, local parish councils and other organisations such as the Parks Trust, Community Action:MK and other voluntary and community groups.

In its 40th anniversary year, MKPA is challenging anyone in Milton Keynes to raise £40 each to help MKPA continue to run free play services in the city.

> For details on MKPA visit http://mkplayassociation.wordpress.com/home/