A COMMUNITY project in the heart of Eccleshill has told how it is combatting "a massive shift in the children’s confidence and social skills" with free play.

Previously known as Eccleshill Adventure Playground, children’s charity Play Bradford is working with 152 of the community's most disadvantaged children to give them both a mental and nutritional boost after lockdown.

It is currently the only operating adventure playground within Bradford district, having worked "relentlessly" to adapt to Government guidelines and build a safe bubble system.

The initiative is funded by a collective funding stream and sources its ingredients from local food banks and fair share programmes to help combat food poverty in the Bradford area.

Operating at The Big Swing site, The Platter Project has served balanced, high nutrient hot meals to children while using creativity to reintegrate them back into everyday life.

After reopening on July 7, manager Janet Jewitt said the organisation had been vital in fighting back against social anxiety and boosting mental and physical wellbeing in Bradford's children.

It not only is working with lower income families but engaging with parents who may only recently have felt financial pressures and those from wealthier backgrounds who need a positive shift in their routine.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Janet said: "Since reopening we’ve noticed a massive shift in the children’s confidence and social skills. The lockdown period had a really negative effect on their physical, mental and social wellbeing due to being unable to play with their friends. This resulted in many of them being afraid of returning back to school and integrating with other children resulting in social anxiety.

"However, since launching the Platter Project we’ve seen the children come on leaps and bounds. Although we’ve had to reduce the size of our play sessions, it’s been interesting to see them become more engrossed in the activity they’re doing. The children have also developed even stronger relations with our playworkers, which has meant we’ve been able to understand the struggles and anxieties the pandemic has had on them."

The project's Hamid Miah and Gracie Wells have been among those focusing on free play by creating fun packs which use basic, everyday items. It ranges from woodwork and music packs to gardening packs.

"We're trying a more hollistic approach. We just wanted something different," Gracie told the Telegraph & Argus.

"It's academic but we wanted to make it academic without being boring.

"My personal view is even children from different backgrounds can be disadvantaged in the same way (as children from poorer backgrounds), like having music lessons or dance classes, it's not child led. It's not free play. That can be just as much of a disadvantage.

"It's a trickle down effect of having freedom of choice."

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In total, Play Bradford provided 702 hot meals throughout the summer with the charity aiming to maintain the service across the autumn and winter period.

When asked about the situations faced by many families at the moment, Hamid said: "A lot of the parents have said  - they all have individual circumstances - but overall they've all been affected (by the pandemic). Whether they've all lost their jobs, a few of them have been furloughed and been struggling on this 80 per cent income.

"We're in touch with parents and they always say they love it so much. It shows we're a service that's needed in the local area."

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