Art Block Blossoms in Disused Toilet Building

An interview with Acton Park's Vicki Barker

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Anyone who has ventured into Acton Park recently will have noticed a number of colourful, exuberant additions to the trees. These are part of an art trail produced by the youth workers, teenagers and children who took part in the Summer activities at the Art Block, which is the home of A.P.P.L.E. (Acton Play Projects and Leisure Events).

We went to talk to Vicki Barker to find out more about the goings on at the Art Block which has a constant changing population of scultures and artworks populating its surrounding space.

Vicki told us: "The Art Block has no problem attracting people who want to try out the many activities on offer here. We can't take more than 100 kids a day and we often have that many or close to it."

There are activities at A.P.P.L.E. throughout the year.

We asked Vicki to tell us how A.P.P.L.E. came about. "It's been going since 1996 and for the part 6 years we've been located in the old loos in Acton Park. Before that we used to work with the Play Centre. We now have a new 10-year lease and hope to have enough money to refurbish the Block soon. We have plans for a kitchen/café area which would be run by the young people who come here. Currently we can only cook outdoors."

Many of the young people who attend A.P.P.L.E. sessions have attended the regular Friday afternoon teas. Some of the girls ran a food stall during the Spring holidays and there was a boys v girls 'cook-off'. "We also took a group of children to a fantastic restaurant for a wonderful meal. This was all part of our 'Food for Thought' project. Food is our newest and most expanding activity at the moment."

The children also grow their own produce. A.P.P.L.E. has been growing vegetables on an allotment on Bromyard Avenue since April this year. "We grow as much as we can." Vicki tells me the menu for the next day's meal features "crushed potatoes, garden peas with mint, moroccan lamb stew with chick peas and apricots followed by summer pudding." The experience of cooking, growing and tasting delicious and healthy food must be inspiring for these young people.

Vicki tells us: "We made the decision to stop serving crisps and sweets four years ago. In the beginning, the kids weren't keen but now they love it."

Parents may want to pay close attention: "Presentation is all important," says Vicki. "For our Friday afternoon teas, we like it to be quite formal: no negative comments, try everything which is put in front of you, be polite. The children love things like bread dipped in olive oil and brie and grapes. We have to be careful not to be too adventurous and will try maybe a mild Thai curry to start with."

Most of the funding for A.P.P.L.E. comes from grant organisations like the Tudor Trust, John Lyons, Jack Petchey and Children in Need as well as from other sources like the Churchfield Community Association.

There is a good range of activities available at A.P.P.L.E. "We are keen for children and young people to find what they like themselves. We do plays, dance, music, drama, camping, raft building, cricket, gardening, tennis and preparing for Carnival - just about anything to get children involved." There is also a good range of art activities, including the textiles and sculptures which distract your attention on a walk around Acton Park.

The age range of the children who participate is from 8-18. They are all mixed together and, Vicki says, "They have to learn how to look out for each other." Some of them learn basic job skills through participating in the activities. "Our young people start minding the younger ones. We are like a large extended family here and we participate in the wider community. We really want the children to take responsibility for themselves. We provide a framework within which they can try things and that enables them to feel their way to doing what they like. It is important they feel like they don't have to do something.

With her colleague Joy Goddard and other volunteers, Vicki also runs projects in schools like John Perryn, Horsenden and West Twyford Primary. The highlights of the year are the Running Wolves, preparing for the Thames Festival and Carnival.

The Art Block is a wonderful hub of creativity and activity for the children and young people of Acton. Recently, parts of the Park have appeared a little unloved but there is something uplifting about the sight of brightly knitted scarves adorning the trees on a grey September afternoon. A.P.P.L.E provides valuable hours of creativity, new experience and responsibility for Acton's youth.


September 12, 2008