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At Glamis Adventure Playground

January 28, 2024
by Jonathan Moules

Guest Writer Jonathan Moules describes his visit to a much-loved Shadwell institution, accompanied with pictures by Contributing Photographer Rachel Ferriman


It is Friday night on a scrap of land where a Victorian children’s hospital once stood but was demolished in the sixties. Children as young as six are gathered in one corner. They have been using knives to strip bark off sticks and have lit a fire. Across the site a group of teenage boys kick a ball around, bouncing it off an abandoned shipping container.

In other communities this kind of behaviour would be shocking to local residents, worried about children out on the streets, getting caught up in gangs and mixing with strangers that could be a bad influence. But not in Shadwell. These kids are out at their adventure playground.

The site is on Glamis Rd, named after the Scottish castle in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, pronounced GLARMS. But to people in Shadwell, it is GLAM-ISS, pronounced the East End way. 

The site first opened its gates to nearby young people in need of space to play in 1969, six years after the children’s hospital had been demolished, joining a network of adventure playgrounds that were set up by the London County Council.

In an age when ‘health and safety’ rules are believed to have destroyed much risk taking in daily life, Glamis remains wonderfully old school in its embrace of invented games, physical activities like rope swings and learning through working alongside other children. 

The ethos among the staff is to enable play rather than structure it, whether that be children making treehouse dens, rope swing tournaments or just chasing each other around the site. 

Involvement is the watchword, so even new building works are shaped by the views of the young people who attend. And though each structure is built by specialist playground construction teams, the children lend a hand in the completion stages with tools and paint to brighten up the finished product. It should be stressed that all of this is done under the auspices of a team, trained in the specific techniques of such playwork.

‘I’m dangerous,’ says twelve-year-old Dylan, proving the point by booting a football he and some friends are kicking around high into the air. It sails up and over the playground fence. Fortunately, Emma, one the managers responsible for the weekday evening and Saturday sessions, is on hand to prevent the boy’s bravado becoming reality. She goes out to collect the ball from the street, ensuring no one else is run over collecting it, and then reminding Dylan to keep it down in future. He and his mates are soon once again lost in their game.

Raph is with a group by the firepit, beaming with pride at having stripped some wood that is cooking in a cannister in the middle of the flames to make charcoal. It is a session that has been led by Natterjacks, an outdoor pursuits charity that partners with Glamis to run fire workshops on Friday nights.

‘My favourite thing is making fire,’ Raph says. ‘But I like football too. We moved here from Arsenal when I was very young, but they’re rubbish. I support Manchester United.’

Raph has persuaded his parents to hire out Glamis for his upcoming tenth birthday party. There is a sense that this is his special place, and he wants to introduce some of his school friends who have yet to discover it. ‘We don’t really have a garden at home, so this is where I can come to play. It’s exciting and fun,’ Raph enthuses.

There is danger here, not for the children but for the future of adventure playgrounds themselves and the freedom they provide to inner city children, such as Dylan and Raph.

A 2022 study by Play England found that fifteen per cent of the 147 adventure playground sites in operation just fifteen years earlier were now no longer there.

Many were local authority run, killed off by austerity cuts begun in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. But even those that survive remain at risk due to health and safety concerns and a downplaying by the government of play as an essential part of the developmental process, according to Play England.

Glamis is clearly loved but it is run by an independent charity with limited means and survives through the generosity of individual donors, grants from organisations like the National Lottery and BBC Children in Need and revenue from special events like Raph’s birthday party and school visits. Resources are limited and fundraising has become notably harder since the pandemic.

The local community is one of London’s most diverse, whether you measure that by income, ethnicity, age or class, and Glamis is where it mixes. But the need is acutely great among its young people. Shadwell has the dubious honour of containing the highest level of child deprivation not just in London, or England, but the whole of the UK.


Stuart from Natterjack Outdoors leads fire-building, whittling, and marshmallow toasting

Photographs copyright © Rachel Ferriman


Please click here to support Glamis Adventure Playground and discover different ways to help Glamis remain a vital local resource for the next fifty years and beyond

You may also like to read Jonathan Moules’ feature about

Old Church Nursery School

6 Responses leave one →
  1. January 28, 2024

    Thank you Jonathan, Rachel and the GA for highlighting this project. Play is so important to children’s development, in both their learning and wellbeing. I really appreciate the time that volunteers give up to make adventurous play happen – you are wonderful people. When building land is at a premium, it’s so important to fight to keep play areas going. I have donated to this worthy cause and hope that others may too.

  2. January 28, 2024

    Adventure playgrounds were and are a fantastic feature. And they should definitely be preserved if possible — especially at a time like today! Today’s children should also be trusted to be able to play here without a helmet 🙂

    Love & Peace

  3. January 28, 2024

    It’s been ages since I have received an email and was so glad it came in today! What a wonderful idea the Playground is!

  4. January 28, 2024

    Thank you for such an interesting article – I worked at this play center for several weeks in the 1970s in order to get some experience prior to going to college. A friend of mine who was involved in local community work recommended the place to me & I am very grateful for being allowed temporary volunteer work there.

    I have never forgotten the place and yes, ‘Glamiss’ Road it was and is!

    I used some of the construction climbing frames as the subject of my paintings at college and although the paintings are long gone, I still have the photographs.

    Long may such a provision for local youngsters continue.

  5. January 28, 2024

    Glamis Adventure Playground has such a brilliant atmosphere, it was really lovely to spend a few hours there photographing the afternoon and seeing all the games and marshmallow toasting.
    Jonathan’s account here really brings it all to life!
    The Glamis Adventure Playground team and Stuart from Natterjack Outdoors are really amazing.

  6. Celeste Larkin -Dion permalink
    January 28, 2024

    A wonderful and necessary type of play for all children, especially city children. There should dbe more of these venues. Free play gives them confidence and skills.

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