Opening the Archive Thinking about collections

Playing and Protesting: Adventure Playgrounds in 1970s-80s Manchester

By Hattie

1. Playing

As soon as I opened the ‘Adventure Play’ folder Black and white photo of five children waving from a high platform on an adventure playgroundof the Elouise Edwards photograph collection I knew I wanted to write about these pictures. Although the folder also included photos of children horse riding, ice skating, river-wading and bouncy castle-jumping, the photos of the adventure playgrounds are what had me hooked. I have so many questions!  Who built them? Where were they? Were they safe? Did that even matter?

The photos show enormous wooden and metal structures, usually near a large housing block or in large empty space, with children leaping, hanging and balancing on the various platforms, slides, planks and ropes – smiling for the camera as they go. It struck me just how different playtime was for children in the 70s than it is today – not a screen in sight (just dizzying heights and a couple of splinters instead).

After doing some research, I have found out that Manchester’s first adventure playground was built in Moss Side in 1969, followed by more in the 1970s in Hulme, Longsight, Wythenshawe and Cheetham Hill. The playgrounds were closely connected to youth clubs and family advice centres, which meant they became popular places for local children to meet up and have fun. From the looks of the photos they were consistently makeshift, made from building materials such as timber, scaffolding and tyres. There are a couple of shots that even show the kids adding their own improvements. In 1973 the efforts of all these communities came together to form the Manchester Adventure Playground Association. This remained a registered charity until 1998, working to improve the ‘physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing’ of children in Manchester.

A black and white photograph of several children balancing on plank connecting two parts of an adventure playground

A group of fourteen children sitting on the steps of an adventure playground

2. Protesting

Another thing this collection of photographs showed me was that when the playing came to an end, the protesting began. Due to the chaotic nature of these playgrounds and the makeshift style of their construction, many were deemed too dangerous by the council and were closed down. Protests followed, which are captured fantastically in these photos. The most-photographed protest took place on Oxford Road, which I recognised immediately as a regular cyclist down that very route.

The children’s homemade signs feature slogans such as ‘Hands off our playground’ and ‘Where do the kids play now?’ Many are directed at ‘Mr Bee’, who I have been told was an important member of Manchester city council at the time, presumably with the power to reopen the playgrounds. Even more helpfully, the placards gave me a clue to the date of these photographs, as one sign states ‘Is this too much to ask in the International Year of the Child?’ which was declared to be 1979 by UNESCO.  I can’t disagree that the playgrounds look dangerous, but having seen the sheer amount of children taking part in the protests that followed the closure of them, I do feel that closing them wasn’t the right thing to do. Perhaps just a few hand rails would have done the job?

A photo of children taking part in a protest demanding their playgrounds to be reopened

Photo of a young boy holding a protest sign that says 'Give us back our playground, we want to play'

I was glad to find out that support for adventure play in Manchester still exists, but something tells me that the council-approved playgrounds of today will involve somewhat less wild, reckless fun than those of the 70s. If anyone has any memories of these playgrounds or the protests that followed their closure we would love to hear from you!


By aiucentre

An open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration. Part of the University of Manchester and based at Manchester Central Library.

14 replies on “Playing and Protesting: Adventure Playgrounds in 1970s-80s Manchester”

Hi. Me and my three sisters are on 2 of those photos. Am more than happy to share and contribute to any further inquiries.

Kind regards

Wow this has brought back many happy memories for me. I was a play worker on Rochdale Adventure playgrounds in the early 1980s where we got the idea of building our own adventure playgrounds we had 6 throughout the council and what fun we had working with a large number of children and their families throughout the years they were open. Unfortunately they all closed and we were made to open after school clubs in community centres which lost all the ethos of adventure play. I went on to work as an outreach coordinator for Manchester young lives for a year and it was great to see that the adventure playgrounds survived and run by TiM Ferguson In 2000

Glad it has brought back happy memories! It would be interesting to hear about your work with Manchestr Young Lives.

I am looking into the nuts and bolts of the decline in Youth Services in 1980’s Manchester, I would like to interview the main players at the time. Councillors, Principal Youth Officers, Volunteers. If you could put me in touch with these people I would be most grateful.

The adventures playgrounds are still going in Moss Side, Ardwick and Wythenshawe with Manchester Young Lives.

We MYL are having a 50 year celebration of this around May/June time 2020 so celebrate the playgrounds. So keep your eyes out for more info on this

I’m guessing that the 50 year celebration had to be postponed, but do let us know about future activity, please.

I think the first photo is from the adventure playground behind Lingbeck Crescent that went up in 1973, next one is from the North Hulme Addy, you can see the red building on the right, used to be a school and now student flats. The old playground is still there but closed a few years ago. Third photo is South Hulme, used to be on Rolls Crescent next to the Spinners pub, I worked for MAPA (playground association) and recognise some children and play workers in the photos. Used to be ten adventure playgrounds in Manchester once until the council started closing them at the end of the 70s. The demo outside theBBC on Oxford Road was because Mr Bee was being interviewed about the proposed closures – he was director of recreation. Great seeing details of Mrs Edwards collection, a wonderful person.

Thank you so much for this insight, Tim. It’s so valuable to us when people share their knowledge and memories of material in our archive. This is the importance of community archives and collective memory in action! Please feel free to come and see us in Central Library if you’d like to share more about the history of adventure playgrounds!

Hello Tim, I remember the closure of the APs. well, it was just before the start of the long summer school holidays. I was part of your campaign group which presented itself to the Manchester City Council’s Recreation Committee. We strongly suggested, among other factors, that closing the APs. during such a crucial time of the year could result in serious accident levels among the City’s children. Staggeringly, one of the Councillors stated that as the children were not using the Council’s AP playground sites they were “No longer our responsibility” I distinctly remember nearly exploding with rage and utter disgust at such a callous and ill-informed statement. Fortunately we managed to get the Council to change its decision. The MAPA was a very committed and well organised body which I remember as one of the most active in the UK, Tim, you were one of the main movers in this organisation and the Manchester/North West children’s play development scene. Well done,mate.

Omg I feel old I used to play in our adventure park in cheetham hill every day met some amazing people was heartbroken to see it go xx

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