Scott Mackenzie is passionate about “unstructured play”.
“In a nutshell, any space is a play space. Unstructured play is how kids learn. We’re all about providing equipment to help kids play in public spaces – parks, neighbourhoods, empty sections, anywhere we can set up and help people be active, connected and spend time together.”
The “we” he refers to is the Get in 2 Life Youth Development Trust that Scott set up in 2006. Through the Trust, he and his team of paid and voluntary staff take vans and trailers all over Auckland to create spaces where kids can use their imaginations and play in ways they design and control.
Often as not, the team shows communities how to use their environment in their play. He illustrates this with the story of the 50 metre water slide secured to the side of a hill and close to a tap. Attach a hose, turn on the tap, add a bit of sunlight soap and you’re in business. “We had about 400 or 500 people playing, using the slide, eating their lunch, just hanging out. And people see how easy it is to make a water slide and often end up making their own at home with a bit of tarpaulin.”
Focus on kids
The Get in 2 Life team provides different options. There’s the In2it Street Games, pretty much what’s described above but every time is different because it depends on the kids who are there and what those kids want to do.
Then there the In2it Underground Street Play, where the team works to provide what are seen as adapted games targeted at 14 to 18 year olds.
“They want something more challenging and social so the Trust runs games sessions such as Street tag and Pedal Car Grand Prix. The favorite at the moment is Capture the Flag,” says Scott.
They also have In2it Street 360 for 16 to 26 year olds and that includes life skills and assigning the young people to employment mentoring opportunities. The aim is to help them to identify for themselves opportunities for their own growth.
“One of the things we try to do is provide work-type opportunities for young people. We want them to know what it means to be in the work force. Some of the our casual staff go on to become teachers. They want to earn money and have some independence.”
Supporting E Tū Whānau kaupapa
The team has recently joined forces with E Tū Whānau staff member Shirleyanne Brown to look at ways they can add value to marae and other similar spaces. They have worked with Papatuanuku Marae in Mangere and Manurewa Marae.
“We use our sessions to enhance the community activities that are already going on. So everybody carries on with their usual roles and activities and we help them to connect with each other. We are striving to support unstructured play in the marae environment. We are looking at ways to make this an ongoing thing so that marae could potentially provide their own equipment for kids.”
Scott says they are also interested in exploring ways to connect marae to their local communities, through play opportunities. As part of this kaupapa, they are in they process of creating a new concept with traditional Māori games.
The Trust is already looking for ways to make the E Tū Whānau funding sustainable. “We are asking ourselves, what other stakeholders can we bring into the space? How can we help each other out?”
The team recognises the unique diversity of cultures in Auckland and is always looking for ways to recognise and honour that diversity through play.
“We try and connect with specific cultures to share our ideas and support them. Sometimes they might need help to rejuvenate, so we try to do that with them if we can.”
Creating play opportunities and getting equipment to kids from all cultures, backgrounds and ages is a priority for the team.
“Our goal is to go into every community in Auckland. We are currently running an eight-week games session in Wiri, South Auckland on Tuesday afternoons. We started with 35 and now average 55 kids each week. About 75 per cent of those kids are Māori. We now have 10-15 adults coming each time. The fact that they know we will be there at the same time on the same night each week keeps them coming.”
The In2it team tries to get equipment to the many families, especially large families, that can’t afford to buy things. “Some kids in one of our groups wanted scooters every week so we chuck 20 or 30 scooters into the back of the van. We’ve got BMW bikes, bikes with Harley Davidson handle bars, unicycles…Trade Me is a great source of equipment for us.”
Kids top priority
Scott says the work they are passionate about has so many benefits.
“Everything we do is about forming habits, kids socialising and having fun while being creative and innovative. We want kids to decide how they play, and use play to connect with each other, with their whānau and families, and with their communities.”
“The focus is always on kids and young people, getting them active and engaged. And if the mums and dads want to get involved, which they often do, that’s great too. But the kids are our priority,” says Scott.