Three-year-old Lyla is waiting in anticipation for our Playful Lives project workers, Lorna and Paula and student social worker, Lauren, to turn up.

It's an overcast day but this hasn't dampened anyone's enthusiasm. As soon as the team walk through the garden gate, Lyla and her two brothers, Joseph, six and Thomas, five, run up to them shouting suggestions of what to play first. 

The boys can't wait to play tag whilst Lyla, full of bounce, heads for the trampoline with Lauren.

It's a welcome break for their mam, Lisa, who admits she finds keeping three children under six entertained 24/7 a bit of a stretch.

"Playful Lives has been great because the children have had no interaction with anyone other than me," says Lisa, who is a teaching assistant at a local school.

I love them and they love me but they must be sick of me by now! Just the fact that there's three extra pairs of hands here today - even for just half an hour to an hour - it's brilliant.

The family has been shielding since March and the start of the Coronavirus lockdown due to Joseph's asthma. "We've actually only been out three times since the 17 March," Lisa says.

The last time the Playful Lives team was here, they used old cardboard boxes to make a pirate ship with the children. This session has a loose theme of 'physical play' so it's running round the garden playing tag and hide and seek.

Playful Lives is a new Children North East project and part of Newcastle City Council's Best Summer Ever, a holiday activity scheme aimed at supporting the city’s five to 18-year-olds during the school holidays. 

Our charity is working closely with the West End Schools Trust, a charitable educational trust formed by eight primary schools, and other partners to create a multi-agency Children's Community in this part of the city. There'll also be an ongoing research element to the work overseen by Newcastle University.

Schools like Bridgewater Primary have recommended families who feel they could benefit from the Playful Lives project to engage with our team.

Andrew and Shirley's family have also enjoyed the project. They have two daughters, Maddison, who's nine and Tamzin, ten. "This has kept the kids really entertained and they look forward to them coming," Shirley says.

On the day we visit, it's tanking down with rain so Andrew has put up a big family tent on ground next to their house. Tamzin, who is being assessed for an attention deficit disorder, loves messy play so Lorna suggests making 'mud paint' and Tamzin gets set digging a hole. "We like to demonstrate that it doesn't have to cost lots of money to keep children occupied and engaged," Lorna explains.

Whilst Maddison experiments with coloured painting inside the tent, Tamzin makes mud handprints before persuading mam to have her hands and face painted - with mud! 

Andrew stands by enjoying the spectacle. "I was into everything like this when I was young - mud fights and making dens with cut grass. The street was full of kids. I don't think kids get the chance to use their imagination so much any more because they're so used to the electronic age. So things like Playful Lives is great with people like yourselves coming out and showing that they can get involved."

Playful Lives worker, Paula, who, along with other Playful Lives staff, benefited from training with a freelance playwork specialist, Jackie Boldon, says the project has been a big hit with families this summer. 

Playful lives has given children the opportunity to engage in different activities together as a family whilst having fun in a safe environment. The interaction with different people - our team members - has had a positive effect on helping the children with their transition back to school and it has decreased isolation for the families by giving them something to look forward to outside of the family home.

* For more information about Playful Lives please contact the team by email: [email protected]