In August 2014, the V&A Museum of Childhood acquired the Donne Buck Archive of Play and Playgrounds. This internationally significant collection records the practice, people and politics of adventure play in Britain over six decades.
Over the next few months, I’ll be working on sharing more of this incredible collection online, so for now, here’s an introduction to the riches in store…
Donne Buck has been a playleader and campaigner for children’s right to play since the 1950s. A significant figure in the history of play, in his long career Donne has established and run adventure playgrounds in London, Stevenage and Peterborough. He has been an active campaigner for children’s rights and promoted the importance of play in education and social development, working with central government, local councils and international agencies. His extensive archive documents his personal role alongside the national picture of play in Britain.
In the 1950s, Donne was working in the poorest areas of London, while the city was still reeling from the damage of the Second World War. Among the bomb sites and rubble, experimental and progressive educators found children desperate for places to play, learn and socialise. Adventure or Junk playgrounds offered “a means of supplying the lost vitamins to the urban child’s impaired recreational diet”[i]. Donne Buck worked in Shoreditch, Lambeth, and at the pioneering Notting Hill adventure playground. The archive contains hundreds of stunning black and white images from this time, documenting the hardships and potential of post-war London.
In the late 1960s, Buck moved to the New Town of Stevenage, going on to establish a ring of adventure playgrounds. In the 1970s and 1980s, battling with councils and developers, Donne became a staunch organiser. The archive records this period of campaigning and publicising, with an international reach.
As well as a wealth of unpublished photographs and correspondence, the archive includes children’s work, plans and designs for playgrounds, wonderful newsletters, posters and pamphlets from a range of groups, minutes and reports giving insight into the politics of the time, training materials for playworkers, many articles and books concerning the theories and practice of playgrounds, and rich sources for the history of playground safety.
The collection’s thorough documentation of debate, activism and practice holds much potential for researchers. The struggles to retain play services during Thatcher’s government (particularly 1983 – 1987) is well recorded, as are the ideologies of safety and freedom which shape conversations about play to this day.
Organisations Donne Buck was involved in, including Fair Play for Children and the National Out of School Alliance are documented in detail. Plus the archive contains material from playgrounds across Britain; the Playboard; the Council of Playground Employees; London Adventure Playground Association; the Association for Children’s Play and Recreation; National Playing Fields Association; International Play Association, and many more.
For more information and to access the archive, please get in touch.
[i] Joe Benjamin, In Search of Adventure: a study of the junk playground, Nuffield Foundation, 1961.