Intergenerational Blog

Reflections on The Hub of Grand Playfulness – Summer 2013


To start, here are some facts about grandparents published by the national charity Grandparent Plus.

  • There are more grandparents in the world today than ever before
  • 1 in 5 UK grandparents provide 10 hours weekly childcare. Changes in state pension mean grandparents are under pressure to combine childcare and work
  • The childcare grandparents provide in UK has been valued at £3.9 billion
  • 4 in 5 UK teenagers say grandparents are the most important people outside immediate family
  • 1 in 3 UK families depend on grandparents for childcare

In our previous Library Playbods projects, our grandparent participants expressed a wish and need for more opportunities for free, fun and creative activities for grandparents and grandchildren to take part in. So we began to develop ideas for The Hub of Grand Playfulness.

In June 2013, Playbods received a Leeds Inspired grant to create The Hub of Grand Playfulness: a city centre pop-up play space offering interactive arts activities for grandparents and their grandchildren at Age UK Leeds. We worked with twenty families from Leeds over four intergenerational half day workshops exploring the concept of play as a connection between generations.

We contacted local community centres, children’s centres, The Neighbourhood Networks, Grandparents Association, and Leeds Older People’s Forum who greatly supported us to engage local families.  We worked closely with Alexandra Boyle, Events and Volunteers Co-ordinator at Age UK Leeds, who helped us to co-ordinate and host the project inside Age UK Leeds building.

During the project we have learnt many things. We could fill a hundred pages with the anecdotes and stories from all the brilliant families who came to take part. Here is an overview of the project.


We began with a Giant Drawing session, our participants ranging from 3 to 68 years old. The space was open with a clear floor, brightly lit and inviting. The floors and walls were covered with giant blank paper and soft cushions at the sides.

We invited families to think big and fill the air and floor with their mark making and ideas about line and journeys through a variety of fun tasks.

We ventured outside into the churchyard and created a carnival of lines with bright coloured scarves – finding ways of filling the air with our fabric as a family.

We created tracks of graphite and paint travelling up and down, across the space. We used giant paper, giant graphite and colour pencils, paint and wheels of different shapes and sizes.

We noticed families interacting, bonding and relaxing together. As a group, we shared the space and transformed it together. Once we began drawing, the children led with their ideas, by drawing around each other’s bodies. The grandparents stretched out low on the papered floor whilst children drew silhouettes around them, tickling with giant pencils.

Amongst the families two older boys were fully absorbed and immersed in the colour in a highly physical way. We all naturally found ways to relax into cushions and blankets – lying on our backs – cuddling up close with our family members, which allowed for lots of time for discussion and feedback from everybody at the end.

Families shared with us:

“A very enjoyable experience for both myself and the children”

“Good fun – will try at home”

“I couldn’t improve anything. It was brilliant!”

Questions that emerged for us:

How can we use the outdoor green spaces at Age UK to engage the families in a safe way?

denmaking_composit_small2During the second session Imaginary Worlds, we focussed on creating a huge sensory landscape stretching across the space to help us conjure up stories and scenarios with our bodies.

We began by exploring ways our bodies could become playgrounds for balancing, leaning, hanging and climbing together. This was very energetic body play and involved lots of physicality from the grandparents, close contact, taking some risks together. The children were good at setting their adults challenges, surprising us with their elaborate ideas! We introduced props for an extra challenge, however providing tasks for mature bodies.

With den making, we immersed our bodies into hoop tunnels, glittery caves, paper rabbit holes, cardboard towers and soft hammocks to envelope our bodies. We created comfortable places to settle into and roll down. Families worked together to find approaches and ideas for the most imaginative way to build their sensory landscape.

We noticed in a smaller group, we could engage more closely with the families and support them better. Children were great self-initiators for their own discovery and generated ideas for grandparents to follow and input their own ideas. For some grandparents, the space was too overwhelming and chaotic at first, but with a little encouragement they got lower to the floor and engaged on the same eye level as their grandchildren.

We acknowledged that grandparents need to play just as much as children, and need a different kind of support for keeping safe and being comfortable within their bodies.

We believe there is so much benefit to the body and brain when we allow for spontaneity, improvisation and joy. When we are playing physically we are developing our emotional intelligence, improving physical fitness, releasing of tension and improving well-being.

When the families were interacting with each other in a physical way, they built close connections together, especially when adults got down on the floor and joined the children in their world of enthusiasm and imagination.

Families said:

“Lovely atmosphere. Children were very relaxed and responsive”

“Great fun!”

Questions that emerged for us:

What’s the optimum amount of resources we need to imaginatively transform the space and be safe in future sessions?

It is ultimately the adult’s responsibility to monitor the children and their own bodies whilst in their physical play. How do we allow for challenging spontaneous physical play, with safety in mind but not to hinder it?


During our Light and Shadow Play session, we had 6 families with children aged 3 to 14 years old and some grandparents who were in their late 60’s.

We began with a dark space to create a completely different environment to step into. We blacked out windows and built two contrasting sensory areas with silver reflective crispy drapery and white flat blank paper for families to explore with their eyes, ears and skin.

We transformed the environment in an ephemeral way by using light. We invited families to explore changes of light and colour by layering textures and shapes on an overhead projector and with torches.  Families created colour wheels with acetates, ribbons and willow to explore shadows onto the walls. These structures also inspired energetic movement games indoor and outdoors.

There were many more bodies within the space in this session, we noticed there was a lot more energy from older children, therefore we were more cautious of supporting younger bodies. A few grandparents were apprehensive about moving in the low-lit space. We recognised grandparents are just as vulnerable and need as much support as children in order to engage and feel included.

Families said:

“A good idea. It encourages children to explore and play with others.”

“I loved trying everything.”

“So much lovely stuff to do together.”

Questions that emerged for us:

How can we offer something for children all the ages at the same time?

How can we make sure we give each family the right amount of attention and support?

composit_smallIn our last session, Wind and Water Play, we welcomed lots of revisiting families as well as lots of new faces, a total of nine families. It seemed word had spread about our sessions!

The indoor space reflected our watery and windy themes by using cool colours of whites, blues and greens with different textures.

As numbers were a lot higher, Playbods divided the group into two halves and we each led different making, moving, drawing and relaxing activities indoors and outside.

Outside we enjoyed lots of space to move and stretch in the fresh air near the trees with our homemade kites in flight catching the wind, we filled the air with floating bubbles and painted the ground with brushes, developing new ideas for movement.

Inside we explored coloured ice cube drawing onto a big piece of paper on the floor, discovering melting, dripping, absorbing, stacking, balancing, mixing on our hands, arms, toes, legs and paper.

We noticed grandparents were more involved in this session and played a more active role, because they were required to move around the building a lot more.

We loved the contrast of having lots of space to move freely outside, and the indoor space offering somewhere calmer and unhurried. We felt there was more time and options for engaging different ages and needs. We noticed children from different families mingling and trying new ideas together as well as older children caring for younger children in other families. Some of our grandparents in this session could not comfortably stand up due to a disability and the children were very attentive by sharing and bringing the activities close to grandparents on the chairs. There was a joint responsibility for everybody to look after our own and others’ bodies and happiness.

Families said:

“I was very impressed by the event, especially the energy and enthusiasm from Kim and Bryony, along with their imaginative programme for the session. Well done.”

“More please!”

“My favourite bit was the relaxation together.”

“I wish this was every week!”

We ask:

How can we continue to offer free, safe playful intergenerational activities in Leeds city centre in the future?


A summary of what we discovered during The Hub of Grand Playfulness:

  • There is a need for free, safe, friendly, playful spaces for families in Leeds city centre.
  • Grandparents wish to play just as much as their grandchildren.
  • Grandparents and grandchildren need equal amounts of support and encouragement.
  • Families are motivated to learn together, be open and embodied within a safe facilitated framework.
  • Families enjoy to move and develop strength, flexibility and coordination when playing in a large outdoor space in the fresh air.
  • Families who are at risk of social exclusion, require extra support in their community settings to encourage them to travel and try something new in the city centre. Neighbourhood networks, family workers, children centre staff play a vital role in this.
  • When families are physically playing together they are happier, emotionally intelligent, healthier and more confident. There is a sense of achievement.
  • As facilitators, we clarify that safety is important, but play does involve a bit of rough and tumble, which is all part of learning about our bodies and each other.
  • As facilitators, we are keen to enable families to take risks together.
  • As collaborators, we acknowledge that developing strong relationships with our partners is the project’s backbone. We value their enormous amount of expertise, understanding, knowledge and connections. We can all learn from each other.
  • As collaborators, we learn there is not just ‘one right way’. We respect our different points of view, our trails and errors, mistakes and reasoning. And we learn more that way.
  • If we want a positive impact on intergenerational relationships, facilitators and partners need lots and lots of time to research, meet the families and their community settings, plan, try, refine, reflect and share.
  • Playbods would like to develop more intergenerational activities, building on these fundamental discoveries for a regular series of sessions developing deeper relationships.

We are currently working towards an exhibition of images of the project at Age UK Leeds, later in the year.

Feedback from our partners 

Alexandra Boyle from Age UK Leeds:

“The imaginative way in which the space was transformed far exceeded our expectations, and proved an unexpected delight…. Both Bryony and Kim are warm, approachable and excellent at recognising apprehensiveness. Wonderful ability to include people within the activities”

David Cousins from Grandparent Association:

“Absolutely brilliant. Great staff who engaged at both levels – grandchildren and the grandparents. All participants were given clear guidelines and support throughout the activity. It was great to see grandparents of all ages enjoying the play and learning. The bringing together grandparent day carers was a massive benefit to all who took part.”

We would like to thank all the families and volunteers who came to participate, Alexandra from Age UK Leeds who supported the project and Leeds Inspired for providing funding to allow us to research intergenerational activities in the city centre. Thank you.

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