Above: Mock-up of a plaque and how it might look. This playlaw is by a Y4 pupil at Morley Memorial Primary School.
The Cambridge Playlaws are a set of rules that that will be displayed as plaques around Cambridge City Centre to encourage citizens and visitors alike to connect with their playful selves and to be even more playful in public spaces.
There will be 10.6 plaques in total — 10 complete plaques and 0.6 of plaque that will be just over half legible — responding to the way in which the project is funded i.e. through Public Art Section 106 developer contributions. They will be located within the project’s S106 boundary which takes the form of a 2km diameter circle emanating from Warren Close near to the railway station.
This map outlines the S106 boundary area for the Cambridge Playlaws project.
The plaques may prompt passers-by to do something playful, silly or fanciful; others may recall memories of playing out in the past; whilst some may imagine a different future for public spaces.
To create the Playlaws, we need your help! Why not upload a playful memory to the map on the home page or your ideas for how you’d like play to be in Cambridge?
And if you’d like to check other people’s ideas that were shared when Playbox came to town, click here.
All of the activities are being logged on the map which will form a rich database of information from which the Playlaws can be created. Playful memories, activities and dreams will be considered alongside potential locations so that each resonates with its site in terms of content, application, location and height.
The Cambridge Playlaws is a new public art work commissioned by Cambridge City Council working in partnership with Cambridge Junction.
Above: Playbox 002
Above: Playbox 001
Play opportunities in the public realm (nationally) have decreased dramatically over the last 50 years due to government policy, the dominance of traffic, busy schedules, increased screen time and red tape. Free play in the public realm is now confined to dedicated playgrounds and multi-use games areas that are often far from home and only benefit the few (1). Play has suffered further with years of Covid where even these spaces weren’t accessible and a cost-of-living crisis has seen our imaginations atrophy and our engagement with public space reduce even further.
And yet play is a basic human driver that is fundamental to our very human existence that when suppressed leads to depression, anxiety, loneliness and isolation (2). Play is how we develop resilience, social skills and creativity. It allows us to experience and engage with the world with wonder and curiosity, to be adaptable to outside influences, to be joyful and even euphoric (3). Play — no matter what your age, background or ability — is really part of who we are.
For many of us it has been a long time since we have played as the pressures of daily life take centre stage. Time and space for play has fallen off the social agenda whilst a mental health epidemic has mushroomed.
The Cambridge Playlaws aims to move play from the periphery to the centre of civic consciousness by getting people to play together again. We hope people will reconnect with their playful selves and share feelings of happiness, joy, creativity and belonging. By getting people to play together, to remember how they played in the past and to imagine play without limits, we hope to stimulate sociability, creativity, confidence, solidarity, kinship, joy and fun!
Our motif for the playlaws is a circle. It was originally inspired by the S106 boundary which appeared as a 2km diameter circle to define the way in which the project is funded through S106 contributions.
We are using this circle as an aesthetic device in which to hold space for play both in the physical and digital realms.
The circle is echoed in the Playlaw plaques which will be realised as objects in the public realm. Some will be situated in areas of high footfall, others might be hidden away. Some may placed at the height of a child, others up out of reach. Some may be in English, others in Braille, or another language entirely. Some may even speak to you! You might stumble across them by accident or make it your mission to seek them all out. Either way, they are all invitations to engage with the public space in new ways by either doing something fun or changing our perceptions of the world around us.
We have called the project The Cambridge Playlaws because laws are systems of principles or rules that regulate the actions of a community. Unlike Byelaws which are often prohibitive, Playlaws are permissive, light hearted and funny. Our dream is for public spaces to empower people to play in public, that are playful in their design, are inclusive, animated, lively and welcoming; places where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to meet friends or make new ones.
We believe that play can change the world. It’s a great leveller and can break down barriers between people providing human connection, community, compassion and co-operation. These are what psychologists refer to as ‘intrinsic values’ and they are vital to human beings’ quality of life (4). We understand this is only one art project but by mobilising local people we hope to catalyse playful people and playful spaces that will transform the dynamic of public places in Cambridge to the benefit of everyone.
1. Make Space for Girls https://makespaceforgirls.co.uk/
2. Stuart Brown ‘Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul’ 2010.
4. James Rohas and John Kamp ‘Dream Play Build: Hands-On Community Engagement For Enduring Spaces and Places’ 2022
is Chief of Play, Galaxy Division of Playful Anywhere, a social enterprise with a mission to catalyse creativity, inventiveness and playfulness where we work, live and travel.
Emma brings teams together including technologists, makers, educators, tinkerers and thinkers on the use of technologies, games, recycling, redistribution. Emma loves to blur the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds, encouraging participants both young and old to get creative with all manner of media, from cardboard to code.
is an artist who has a track record in delivering playable experiences and heritage responsive works of art in the public realm, historic venues, museums and galleries.
Pippa often involves communities in the production of her artworks and more recently has begun to explore the idea of co-creation where local people are included in the conception of art works from the outset.
We decided to collaborate on this project because we’ve been friends for ages and wanted to work on something together. We hope to bring a unique blend of physical and digital, participation and permanence, curiosity and provocation that will be joyful and fun.
We are all about splicing genuine engagement with artistic excellence to change the way people experience spaces and places. We want to actively engage local people and passers-by by igniting their curiosity and creativity to punctuate the place in which they live and work in the long term.
Playing out has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. A survey by the National Trust in 2012 noted that children’s freedom to roam had declined by almost 90% since the 1970s.
We’d love to hear your memories of playing out when you were a child (no matter how old you are now) so we can track how experiences of play have changed over the years. Click the button below and select the ‘Memories of Play’ option to to log your memories on our interactive Cambridge Play Map.
Lots of people, of all ages, joined us at our Playbox locations as we played out on piazzas and in parks over summer. Everyone joyfully got involved creating their own Play Agent secret disguises and making a playful zone with lots of fun materials.
To all who came — thank you for making it so memorable and being part of this celebration of play in Cambridge!
We’ve created a photo gallery that captures all the fun and frolics experienced on the days. See if you can spot yourself, friends or family in the photos.