April 11, 2023

Why kids need risk – celebrating the life of Marjory Allen

London and the world

Today we are marking the passing of one of our heroes, Marjory Allen (10 May 1897 – 11 April 1976), or Lady Allen of Hurtwood as she became known. She was a pioneering play advocate and as a Landscape Architect, the first to create junk playgrounds for kids.

In 1945 she visited Copenhagen and discovered the work of Local Architect Carl Theodor Sorensen who had created playgrounds on the construction sites left abandoned, by filling them with building materials, discarded objects and tools. Soon kids were digging, building and inventing their own way of playing together all on their own.

Marjory Allen was so taken with the concept, she brought it back to Britain and created the first Adventure Playgrounds across London. If you're a child who grew up in the 60's or 70's you WILL remember them. These adventure playgrounds, whilst crude, were designed to provide children with a unique play experience that emphasized the importance of risk-taking.

Allen's playgrounds were constructed out of discarded materials, such as old tires, scrap wood, and damaged furniture. These materials were intentionally chosen because they allowed children to create their own play environments and encouraged them to take risks in a controlled and safe setting. Allen believed that by providing children with the freedom to explore and experiment within their environment, they would learn to manage risk alongside their peers and develop important life skills.

Her playgrounds were incredibly successful and quickly became a feature in towns and cities around the world. Her approach to play was based on the belief that children learn best through their own experiences and that they should be encouraged to explore and experiment as often as possible. By providing children with the opportunity to take risks, Allen believed that they would develop a healthy understanding of their own limitations and develop the confidence and decision-making skills necessary to navigate the challenges of adulthood.

There were six interconnecting risks, she believed mattered:

- Height
- Speed
- Tools
- Dangerous elements
- Rough and tumble
- The ability to disappear or get lost

Marjory Allen's work has had a profound impact on the field of play advocacy, and her ideas continue to influence the design of our own playgrounds today. We live and breathe these elements when we design adventure play. We have to be slightly cautious these days with the rough and tumble element, but the rest are designed in from the outset.

Her approach to play emphasized the importance of creativity, imagination, and risk-taking, and her junk playgrounds were designed to promote these values. By celebrating the work of Marjory Allen, we can continue to promote the importance of risk-taking in childhood development and encourage the design of playgrounds that allow children to explore and experiment within their environment.

So, on the 47th anniversary of her passing, let's raise a glass to Marjory Allen, as without her, we may never have been able to create adventure play that challenges children to step out of their comfort zone, and away from their screens, in the way that we do.

Thank you Marjory. Thank you.

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