Archive | November, 2013

Howard League story about Wakefield Prison

9 Nov

The Howard League for Penal reform are currently seeking stories from people who have experience of the legal system and this story came to mind. After writing it I realised that perhaps there was a wider audience to whom it might appeal! So here it is.


I was involved in helping to set up the Children’s Play facility for visitors to Wakefield High Security Prison. The inspiration behind this was Barbara Tamminen who was a Play Worker trained at Leeds Metropolitan University. She had used her work at Wakefield as part of her quite ground breaking dissertation.


My story is about what the unit did for a young girl coming up to her GCSEs. Along with the children of drug addicts, children of prisoners are quite possibly one of the most discriminated against in our society, often treated as guilty on their parent’s account, even at the schools that they attend. This particular girl was a regular at the Unit, outgoing, contributing and supporting younger members of the play facility.


One day she came to the Unit and sat without speaking to anyone, clearly troubled and upset. Barbara approached her to find out what was wrong and she confessed that she was coming up to taking her GCSEs and was desperately anxious about her English. Her teachers had refused to help her and her parents were unable to and she didn’t know what to do. Barbara took her on one side and spent the whole of that session with her teaching her about how to take exams and how to do better with her English. A few months later we heard that she had passed.


I found this incredibly moving, where else had she to go? it has made me passionate about the importance of these facilities in Prisons and I am always grateful when I read of the work that the Howard League do to help these children. It can never be enough!


No wonder we are concerned for children and Nature

3 Nov

So I don’t blog for months, then two come along in four days!! Well I just felt that they were terribly important and had to blog them! so here goes . . . . . . . . .

I expect you will all know about Sara Maitland’s interest in the natural world? Well I didn’t until my wife started quoting from her recent book entitled ‘Gossip from the Forest’ and she read me one fact that I just thought I MUST make all my colleagues aware of this fact. It is as follows:

 “In 2008, a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary- designed for children aged between 7 and 9- decided that the modern English primary school child had no use for a remarkable range of fairly basic ‘nature words’, including:

  • catkin;
  • brook;
  • acorn;
  • buttercup;
  • blackberry;
  • conker;
  • holly;
  • ivy;
  • mistletoe;”

 she then goes onto give us their replacements:

 “Of course the words that have replaced them – like database, export, curriculum, vandalism, negotiate, committee, compulsory, bullet point, voicemail, citizenship, dyslexic and celebrity- are useful words to have, but I was walking in Epping Forest with Robert Macfarlane, a master of enchantment, who sums it up in his wonderful essay, ‘A Counter-Desecration Phrasebook’:

 A basic language-literacy of nature is falling from us. And what is being lost along with this literacy is something perhaps even more valuable: a kind of language magic, the power that certain words possess to enchant our imaginative relations with nature and landscape.”

 I probably should not have included the second quote as it is not what really grabbed me, nor is it the point I want to get over here, but isn’t it magical? 

 “a kind of language magic, the power that certain words possess to enchant our imaginative relations with nature and landscape.”

 But to the point, don’t these omissions and inclusions underpin just the sort of society that we are creating and just those aspects of society that, particularly in realm of children and play, cause us greatest anxiety?

 And, perhaps, what concerns me most, is that once a dictionary and particularly the Oxford Dictionary, does this for children it is setting this deterioration in stone.

 “Excuse me, Ms, but what’s an acorn?”

 “look it up in the Dictionary dear”

 “but Ms it isn’t there!”

 Need I say more? Perhaps someone can suggest ways in which this can be undone? Are Sara Maitland and Robert Macfarlane involved with the Wild Project?