Following our decision to support BBC Children in Need this year, it was amid much anticipation and excitement that, on Monday, 23rd September, Pudsey Bear appeared in the Buying Office at Shoe Zone Head Office, (fondly nicknamed ‘Help Zone’). He was on official business, taking Anthony, Charles and myself to see a project not far from Help Zone in inner city Leicester, that BBC Children in Need help to fund.
We arrived at Woodgate Adventure Playground a little after 3pm ahead of the children who come from various schools, via various means. Some were dropped off by school transport, others by their parents and some came under their own steam. The scheme is an open access adventure playground where kids aged 5 – 14 years can play and meet friends after school and during school holidays. It provides a safe place to play which is supervised although children are free to come and go as they please. Children of any ability and background can use the playground which promotes inclusive play, ensuring that those with additional needs are provided with appropriate support. A special needs worker is employed specifically to provide this.
The playground, which is found behind high fencing and trees and from the outside doesn’t look particularly impressive, was a hidden gem of fun. From an amazing outside area including climbing frame, slides, swings, zip wires, a badminton court & bouncy castle to a tuck shop, this place has it all. The dedicated workers have squeezed every ounce of imagination and fun into this playground with very limited resources.
Children can take part in art activities in an impressive art room, not impressive in size or its facilities, but in the work exhibited around the walls, from items based on well-known artists like Andy Warhol and Lowry to a row of model shops, each one based on a member of staff. In one corner was the ‘Africa project’, completed in the Summer holidays including wall paintings and instruments; this room was crammed full of innovative ideas and amazing examples of the children’s creativity.
Hidden in the corner through this wonderful burst of creativity was a door to the sensory room, a vital space for many of the children to chill out, particularly those with additional needs, and in the other corner another door to a very small but productive computer suite, provided particularly for children that do not have internet access at home to help them do their homework. A sports hall and games room complete the facilities. This place tries to do so much for these kids, it’s astonishing to see what they can achieve with so little.
As the children arrive, Pudsey is in his element. Dancing, wiggling, waving, cuddling, and ‘high-fives’ are a-plenty as he makes his way around the site, with throngs of children around him, many of them wanting their picture taken with him. They were intrigued to find out that he is 5 years old and did well to remember that his birthday is in November when he will be on TV. They were keen to get him on the zip wire but his feet were too big for the steps so they settled with the bouncy castle where they were joined by Anthony and Charles.
The workers and a local lad who, now in his early 20’s had attended since an early age, spent time showing us around and telling us about the scheme and activities that take place. It was incredible to hear about the difference that this scheme makes to many local children, not only by providing a play facility but also offering a somewhere where all children feel included regardless of their ability or needs, where children feel secure and develop both in confidence and ability. This experience was both humbling and inspiring. The dedication and enthusiasm of the staff left a big impression on me. These people were making the absolute most of very little resources, continuously trying to improve the facilities on offer and help more and more children. They really do make a difference to these children who were happy and engaged with both the activities and each other.
I came away feeling immensely privileged to have met them and to be involved in fundraising with BBC Children in Need to support thousands of projects like these up and down the country. I feel proud that we at Shoe Zone will be able to directly help some of these people. We’ve set ourselves a target of £60,000 to raise between now and November 15th and will be carrying out activities in all of our UK stores. If you visit a store, please listen out for a special message from Sir Terry Wogan and look out for the special Children in Need wristbands which are on sale now. To donate to the Shoe Zone Children in Need Appeal click here.