We have now introduced a fair few of our talented play-workers, and now it’s time to introduce one of the most valued members of our team! With an unrivalled passion for providing play opportunities and a dedicated attitude to play-work, Koj (Guillermo) really is a vital part of our White City play project team.
Koj predominantly works with the White City play project team, but has also lead some of our Holiday Fun pop-up play work and has worked in Westminster with our organisation too. He has kindly agreed to tell you all a bit about his experiences in play-work and share some of his play wisdom.
So, without further ado, over to you Mr Koj!
Hello There! My name is Guillermo or Koj for short (long story!) and I’ve been a Playworker since I was about 16 or so, first volunteering and later remunerated for my efforts…so almost exactly half of my life has been dedicated to this wondrous of vocations, and I look forward to continue doing this Labour of Love for as long as possible!
When did you first encounter the Play Association?
They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse… Or:
I first encountered the Play Association properly in May of 2016 as they required some extra staff to work at their fantastic specialist Anthony Lillis Project for the May Half Term, and CEO Steve had contacted me to secure my services for that particular moment in time, and intermittently for some other ad hoc guest appearances at other provisions previously as the Tri-Borough agreement between the respective councils facilitated this.
Fast forwarding to the run up to Summer 2017, I had a phone call asking about my availability for work at an exciting Project the Play Association were running down at White City Adventure Playground. The call was from Rob Carrol, whom I had worked with at Westminster Council’s Play Service and pre-2004 at Westminster Play Association; both as a staff member, and also as an attendee. In short, he’s older than he looks and I’ve come full-circle through the Play ‘system’, if you will. CEO Steve also had worked at Westminster Play Association at the same time, and a few other familiar faces from years gone by have found their way to the Play Association to create, as Rob explained his rationale for contacting me also, ‘a kinda Dream Team’ to get the best out of the provision for the children and community at large. It still feels more like a Dream Team than it does a Greatest Hits Reunion Tour, mind!
What is the best thing about your role/working for the Play association?
The fame and fortune… Or:
With the variety of roles I have occupied, both in the past as well as since I’ve come on board with the Play Association, it is the fluidity and directness of the interaction that we have with the children in a community-based provision, which gives a very important sense of empowerment and ownership not just to the children, but to the community also. I believe community-based provision is *integral* and *necessary* and should be protected at all costs.
We are forging relationships upon bonds of trust, with parents/carers and children alike, as well as hammering out partnerships to work in conjunction with local entities to develop and expand what we can offer children going forward, which in turn will yield better opportunities and effects for the community. I’ve worked with children with complex needs, mainstream and non-mainstream children, in inclusive and specialised environments, in both school-based and community-based provisions, leading projects in Holiday periods and afterschool across the boroughs of both Hammersmith & Fulham and Westminster. In my own unique and inimitable style (according to some, thankfully so), giving a flexible and fun approach and treating children like the amiable beings that they are (mostly), they enjoy the environment which we provide and maintain for them, and feel comfortable enough to be themselves despite the questions and queries that throws up, approaching us freely for answers or suggestions which we are happy to discuss. The fame of being instantly recognisable (look for Purple) and the good fortune of being able to work in an environment where my job is to make people happy is one of the most intrinsically rewarding things that life can bring!
Why are the services being run by the play association so important for children and young people?
Over the years, I’ve seen access to play, safe spaces, community spaces and the like decreasing at an alarming rate, and those that persist have and are being squeezed until the pips squeak. Having previously worked with the in-house Council Play services, those services have been dismantled and/or privatised, with the slack left by modifications and cuts to said services being picked up by the Charity sector. It is from the Community itself whence these provisions came in the first place, from local people coming together to oversee the play of kids on WWII bomb sites primarily, later growing and organising into Charitable groups to maintain and protect the said Community, both the people as well as the physical spaces also. The importance of the spaces, and those who work in them is near incalculable, and I have been lucky enough to serve the communities which I am part of and beyond, having been born and raised in West London myself and attending a number of projects myself, so I know how important they have been for me through my own embodied experience and how they can be a key opportunity for others too. The Play Association is providing opportunities for young people of the community to Volunteer and develop into the next generation of Playworkers, like I did so many years ago, thus taking steps to invest and continue providing provisions for the people, run with and by the very people it serves.
What do you see yourself doing in the future?
I’m planning to return to study and do a Masters in Playwork, and I hope to be able to take the combined voices of those children and parents/carers and community members over the years into spaces where their voices need to be heard and listened to, advocating for the rights that too simply are either forgotten, ignored or actively harmed and discounted by those who make the decisions which are affecting our everyday lives. This will hopefully mean getting people who make Policy to begin guaranteeing and living up to the ‘promises’ they make, and delivering what people need, and being in a position where I can nag and make positive changes happen either directly or indirectly, whilst maintaining some frontline ‘on the ground’ work just to ensure I’m still in touch with the reality of children and young people, not getting lost down a rabbit-hole with no idea what’s going on!
Brilliant stuff, Koj! A fabulous insight to the world of a play-worker and to the intricacies of play. We’re fortunate to have you on board!