Small Flames


A small natural playspace in the middle of an East End estate.
It is a deep dark evening and the Playworkers, mums and children have gathered tea-lights and nestled them on the buried tree crown that is a climbing space, a den, a gathering point….
It is glowing with small warm shimmers of light which is a new and exciting play thing. The children are tender with the tiny flames. Sometimes a birthday candle is more exciting than a huge bonfire. These flames transform our time together. Our coldburning faces absorb their warmth. Our eyes cannot resist their flickering.

On the periphery of the playing, unknown adults are gathering. A local councillor, a project manager, an official from the RSL, an estate manager… They watch and talk amongst themselves as the children play with the small flames supported by Playworkers and Mums.

One very little girl, absorbed and enchanted by the experience of the candles, picks a tea -light up and asks the Playworker if she can take it to her mum. Playworker pauses, considers. She shows the girl how to shield the flame and hold it away from her nylon coat. They walk together over the dark uneven grass, up the stairs, along corridors. Will the family be horrified that the child is allowed to play with fire? This is a real possibility. How would the wonder of the experience and the confidence that the girl has acquired, be crushed if the family is angry? However, the child is confident that this is what she has to do.
Trying not to show her nervousness the Playworker makes sure that the child negotiates her route safely and helps her to knock at the front door. She stands waiting for an answer with the child. The girl is expecting joy at her gift. The Playworker is preparing an amelioration for the child in case of a negative response.
Door opens. Dad looks bemused. Girl explains in mother tongue what she is doing. Mum joins Dad and they both beam at the girl and help her into the sitting room where the extended family are gathered. The flame takes pride of place. It lights the room.

The girl turns, beaming like a small flame, to the Playworker, and they scamper back to the playing square.

The next day we are told that the Registered Social Landlord has forbidden naked flames in their open space.

Where does the greatest danger lie? Where is the greatest benefit?

We continue to use tea-lights despite the ban.

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