On Friday 30th June 2017 a small team of 4 employees from COINS (Rishi, Sarmila, Ghulam and James) travelled to London, Kennington to the Charlie Chaplin Adventure Playground Community Project for a day of renovation building work.

I have always enjoyed DIY (I recommend BBC’s DIY SOS program if you also want to catch the bug) and earlier in 2017 at the COINS office in Slough I attended a presentation from Barbara White on a project she had worked on with Habitat for Humanity. Barbara had travelled to Mumbai in January this year to participate in a women’s build and after hearing her story, I wondered whether there were any build sites in the UK as it could be a great opportunity to give back some time and skills towards a good cause.

Habitat for Humanity have been working at the Charlie Chaplin Adventure Playground (CCAP) in Kennington for the last 7 years carrying out essential maintenance and improvements to the landscaping and play equipment. CCAP was set up in 1979 by Lady Chaplin – one of Charlie Chaplin’s former wives to create a safe space for handicapped children in Lambeth to play and engage in social activities. It has since been working to maintain the ethos created by Lady Chaplin.

We didn’t find out what was scheduled for us in advance as the tasks depend on what previous volunteering groups have completed before our visit but we dressed for the mess and embraced the challenge on arrival.

No skill level is required only a willingness to get involved – we were all provided with the correct equipment and protective clothing so even those who were relatively inexperienced felt totally safe at all times. It turned out that all of our small team were involved in every aspect of the work very quickly, working alongside two very helpful experienced staff; Keith (who runs the playground centre) and Ken (from Habitat for Humanity). Keith described a typical day working in the centre with the children and it was an eye opener to learn about the demands that were put on centre staff and carers. It conveyed to us why the outdoor adventure playground area is a very essential service to allow some much needed recreation time and a space for carers and staff to meet.

Job 1: 6 foundation holes for a new swing

Presented with six 1 meter deep foundation holes mainly dug by a previous team of volunteers, our task was to ensure all six holes were equidistant and the six inserted wooden concrete moulds were precisely positioned ahead of pouring concrete and rubble backfilling. After switching our software support mind set over to geometric planning skills we all decided to use a length of wood to maintain the same distance, where plotting each of the hexagonal points would provide a perfect hexagon. It is so easy for me to explain the solution but deriving it was the hard work! Once this had been established and we were confident of the precise layout of the foundation holes we got to work (with the aid of a Kango breaker power tool) opening up the hole walls and breaking through any old concrete foundations.

Job 2: Build a fence panel on a playground feature

The adventure playground has many themed features (wooden ship, castle hill top etc.) all linked by smooth footpaths wide enough for wheelchair access. Two of the team built a new fence panel to provide a safe viewpoint from the castle hilltop.

Job 3: Cut and fix ceiling panel boards inside the communal area

Even more geometry skills were required as the indoor communal main building had recently had new ceiling rafters built where our task was to cut and fit new panel boards to cover the ceiling. Due to the weight of the boards 2 people were required with a 3rd to oversee everything. We fell for the first obstacle where we assumed the edge of the building walls were straight – we should have known, they never are! In hindsight it was something we probably should have all thought to check at the beginning, it definitely would have been useful to have found this out before we had cut all of the panels!

A huge thanks to Barbara White and Thanya Mansfield at COINS for allowing the volunteering day and supporting it as well as a huge congratulations to the team who took part. We were a good balance of experienced and not so experienced members but everyone picked up new skills quickly and learning on the job definitely proved to be successful!

I look forward to arranging the next date for our ‘DIY SOS’ volunteers so if you think you’d be up for the challenge – get in touch!