Teenager Ash Silva has become the youngest ever trustee of Play Torbay. Here, the 17-year-old Churston Grammar School pupil explains why she has volunteered for the organisation that champions children’s play across the Bay. This is Ash’s presentation she gave to a packed audience at the annual meeting of Play Torbay last month. ASH SILVA writes:

My name is Ash Silva, I’m 17 and I’m a junior playworker. I’ve been with Play Torbay since I was five years old. I’m here to talk about my experience on both sides of the coin; as a child and as a playworker.

Shortly after I was introduced to Play Torbay by a friend, I was a regular at the old Fort Apache in Hele. I’m sure any long-time playworkers remember it like I do; it was a truly magical and special place.

Some people might know that I don’t respond well to authority, much like hundreds of the children Play Torbay has helped over the years. Some teachers weren’t very fond of my assertiveness and “individuality”, but at Play Torbay, it was encouraged. They gave us a utopia. We could run, play, build, destroy, do anything we wanted any time we wanted.

At Fort Apache, age five onwards, I made potions out of leaves and dirt, I painted the trees with different colours of earth, I hit targets with a bow and arrow, I explored the forest, and I made friends that I love and cherish to this day. It was worlds away from the rigid and suffocating school routine I was used to. I’d never experienced anything like it. Every week, I had the time of my life.

Around this time, I got involved with some of the first Play Torbay Quests. Despite the obvious benefits of working on such a large, artistic project alongside professionals when I was a child, Quests were also essential for me in other ways. I learned how to listen to others and consider their opinions. I made my first ever out-of-school friends, and I even had my first kiss.

Where the playgrounds were a place I would run around and be wild and feral, the Quests were a place where I could be creative in a way that didn’t just matter to me.

My thoughts and ideas mattered to my peers, and they mattered to real and talented professional artists and play workers who worked hard to bring them to life. And bring them to life, they did! When we performed, it was the culmination of all of our hard work, and we were truly proud and happy to be there.

When I think about some of the happy memories of my childhood, I think about the times I had at the playgrounds and at these Quests. This made the decision to become a junior playworker at age 13 an easy one.

The transition from participant to staff member was strange, and I was worried about handling the responsibility that would come with it, but I used my training and the example of the playworkers around me to guide my actions.

At first, I wasn’t an authority figure but rather a tool to encourage play from the inside out, as a sort of peer who the children and young people knew was there to support them and their play.

It took me a while to get the hang of it, and stop second guessing everything I was doing, but once I did, my role became immensely rewarding.

This year I worked as an enabler at the Dartington Quest. I saw the children undergo the same transformation I did. Many of them started out shy and reserved, but when they realised how much freedom and responsibility they had been given, everything changed.

It’s possible that many of the people who saw this Quest, but weren’t involved in it, saw the labels that had been assigned to these children and assumed that the children had very little of a role in shaping it. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

As playworkers, we support and guide, but the children are the ones that lead. They created the Dartington Quest, and while it’s not an objective masterpiece it is the result of their effort and hard work and pride. They went away knowing that they DID have the power to create something amazing, and that their voice is heard and valuable. And even though this effect often goes unnoticed, it is immensely powerful, and we are the people who help cultivate it in the children who need it. That’s what makes being a playworker worth it.

Play Torbay director Tanny Stobart said: “Ash and I had talked about her contribution at Play Torbay’s annual meeting but only in very general terms and I was completely blown away by her presentation on the night. It was beautifully written and from the heart.

“Ash talked about growing up in today’s world and how it is possible, if given the chance, for young people to successfully find ways to support and encourage young people who might be less fortunate than themselves.

“For Ash, this experience had helped her to understand the true value of play and its fundamental necessity to children’s healthy development.  This had been the inspiration for her to think about joining Play Torbay as a trustee.  

“For me, it was the highlight of the evening and I am thrilled we are lucky enough to have her continued inspiration.”