June 5, 2015#

Charlie Cake Park in Minecraft


We’ve been working with Leeds Libraries since Summer last year on a series of Minecraft events. Since the finale event of March of the Robots a Leeds Map has been developed by artist Gemma Latham, with the team at Leeds Library and the Immersive Community (www.immersiveminds.com) We’re still tinkering and testing it, but the plan is to develop a map which both the library can develop and anybody can contribute to over time.

Here’s Gemma on a recent experiment in a 20ft Shipping Container…

The Playful PlayBox has been residing in Charlie Cake Park in Armley since Easter and a couple of weeks ago it opened it doors to a group of young Minecraft enthusiasts, all of whom had signed up for a fun afternoon recreating the park in Minecraft. Tasked with plotting all the features of the park, each of the children were given a grided map with a basic layout of the park on it and working in pairs, counted and plotted the positions of trees and other features such as benches, flowerbeds and cable boxes.

After much conferring and careful observation out in the park, the children returned with brilliantly annotated maps, many having noticed features that I had missed and one even having created a key for his drawing. Then came the excitement of moving into the Minecraft map. Met with a pre-plotted basic Minecraft version of the park with grass areas, fences and paths marked out, the players soon discovered the PlayBox itself within it. There was also an in-game guide in the form of Stephen Reid of ImmersiveMinds who joined us on the server remotely from Scotland and was there to aid with any questions and show the players around. Upon entering the playful container, the players were transported, via the magic of Minecraft, to a much larger internal space from which they could collect all the blocks that they would need for building.

With resources gathered, building began and we soon had trees sprouting up all over the park. It should be noted that the tress were built block by block and not planted as sapplings which allows trees to grow within Minecraft. We wanted the children to observe the individual nature of each tree and try to recreate it both through size and shape and block textures used. Having set each player up in Survival mode, building was more of a challenge  than being in Creative, especially building at heights. With a little guidance, the players were soon erecting ladders and structural supports, lots of problem solving and sharing of ideas.

We ended the session with a fun treasure hunt both within Minecraft and in the actual park. With clues written in virtual books and hidden in chests in game, the players followed a series of directional instructions to find the next location and dig for the next clue. The final clue invited the players to hunt out a real life treat hidden in the same location in the park.

All in all, this was a good first test run using our Leeds Minecraft map, the biggest success I think being the combination of real world and online experiences within a physical location.






April 27, 2014#

PhotoFun – Playful Sociable Photography

When kids are young playing is easy, it comes naturally to them, the world is simply a three dimensional game board set out for them to create on and have as much fun as possible.  As they edge towards and into high school and then onwards towards adulthood this changes and as adults how many of us look at the world around us as our playgrounds?  I’m quite lucky in many ways in that I have never really lost my sense of wonder at all that goes on around me and I also regularly ride a bike which is one of the most playful ways to explore and enjoy your surroundings that I know.

I’d never really thought of photography as being particularly playful but the placing of cameras on the phones in our pockets and the linking up to social media has changed that perception for me, together with a project that my kids and I have been doing over the last couple of years – namely getting them to pick themes and then using social media to invite others to interpret the theme in any way they want.  What started off as an idea sat in a cafe chatting to one of my kids has mushroomed into something unexpectedly joyful.

Two years ago, back in that cafe one of my kids picked up the magazine I was reading and said “I really like that”, pointing to the photo theme that appears on the inside back cover of the Guardian newspaper each week.  It was a few weeks before the start of the summer holidays and like most parents I was planning various things that we could do over the six week break.  ”We could do something like that” says I “We could come up with our own themes and play around seeing how we could interpret them”.  Then she surprised me by suggesting that they would come up with the themes, six themes one for each week, and that I should use my twitter account to see if other people were interested and I should blog the results at the end of each week.

I’d not been writing the blog very long at this point, but was really enjoying in, and was very new to twitter as well which was surprising me greatly in a very positive way as I had up until that point dismissed it purely as the banal wittering of idiots.  I’d taken the plunge (ok dangled my toe in the water) into social media as I was well aware that my children were growing up in a very different world to when I was a child and social media was going to play a part whether I liked it or not.  I therefore thought I’d have a bit of a play with it and see what it was all about before they did.  The idea of using it to play our photofun game seemed ideal.

So off we went, #summerphotofun was launched and to be honest I felt a bit like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams – if I tweet it will they respond?  Amazingly people picked it up and suddenly photos started popping up in my timeline much to my, and especially my kids surprise.  One of the first was from Sydney !  ”Who do you know in Australia Dad?”  ”er no one” and this was followed by photos from people all over the place.  All the best play I think teaches you stuff and this was a fantastic real life demonstration of how you can build a community of people interested in what you are doing but perhaps most importantly how quickly you can spread an idea or a photo.  Last summer as well as the themes we took this idea a stage further and tried to see if, over the six weeks we could get a photo representing the themes from an A-Z of countries or places and amazingly we managed it.

At the end of each week I pulled all the photos together and collated them all in a blog post.  We have done this over the last two summers but also cover most of the other holidays (#halftermphotofun #decemberphotofun #easterphotofun etc) as well as throwing in the odd ad hoc #weeekendphotofun when we fancy it.  All the results are over on my blog if you are interested in having a look.  The results are always really interesting, the kids have consistently picked good themes and the interpretations are great, no matter what we think people will come up with they always surprise us, young and old alike take part and you do not necessarily know who has taken what.  The photo at the top was a playful interpretation that someone sent in for the theme Together.

Having a camera phone in my pocket has helped me to view the city I live in in a different way as I go hunting for whatever the theme the kids have come up with, circles or colours for example.  This interaction with the world around me has made me view things in a more playful way and has helped us as a family to continue to play together, this has continued through the fantastic community of people who share their own interpretations and play along with us.  If you fancy playing along then do join in, all are welcome.



September 6, 2013#

A Gloriously Bonkers Adventure?

Today the BBC Reports Leeds loses bid to give 1950s robot Cygan a home’ Yet that doesn’t make us in the slightest bit sad really. Two weeks ago we couldn’t have imagined a headline like it could we?

So what’s the story?

Why attempt to win a large, kitsch, defunct robot called Cygan, or Gygan?
Since Playful Leeds hosted ‘Playspace: without Borders’ in September 2012 we’ve been plotting something rather huge and daunting. Starting with a question ‘what can bring the widest population of Leeds together being creative, resourceful, imaginative and manifest itself in a great explosion of civic pride’? At that time and event a number of conversations led us to think Robots were worth pursuing as an answer to that question. Since then we’ve been creating relationships, seeing how people want to get involved and developing a year long exploration called March of the Robots.

Out of the blue an old one tonne, 8ft tall, rust bucket of a Robot from the 1950s was announced as coming up for auction at Christies auctioneers. You only have to watch the video clip to see why we fancied him! (Plus I had the words of Geoff, Don of the Yorkshire Mafia ringing in my ears about bringing a mega Japanese Robot to town to wake everybody up) Despite Cygan not being Japanese, he fit the bill in many other ways, who wouldn’t want to dance with a Robot who could lift skirts and crush cans with their hands? So instead of the quiet R&D period we had planned for March of the Robots, and operating on a zero budget type of adventure we thought, let’s see if bringing Cygan to Leeds will capture the imagination and see how far we get.

What happened?

We had 2 weeks to get our campaign off the ground, and try to meet the suggested guide price of £8-12k and then factor in travel, commissions and storage. So the rather eye wateringly high target of £15k was reached. We choose SpaceHive over Kickstarter and IndieGoGo as our crowd-funding platform, even though it is less well known because it’s all about civic spaces and projects, and that’s kind of our interest. Though our project was rather unusual for them they have been immensely supportive throughout the campaign and I think we’ll work with them again…We’ll share our learning about crowdfunding in another blog shortly.

We asked designers Lee Goater and Chris Van Niekerk to have a little fun with Cygan to spearhead the campaign. Ryan Davies and Carl Milner came up trumps with the images we played with of Leeds Town Hall and Broadcasting Place

Not being a PR guru I asked for help from Dom Burch at Asda in crafting something attention grabbing. I also leant heavily on a number of playful people like Leanne Buchan, Tim Inneaux and Fran Graham who asked great questions, like WHY? Our first pledge of £500 came from Dr Adam Beaumont of aql an amazing business located in the Old Salem Church. Yes they are the company behind the plans for those Wifi enabled free Blue Telephone Boxes in Leeds.

Our campaign fast forwarded our relationship with The University of Leeds School of Electrical Engineering, who were incredibly quick to help out when BBC Look North said just prior to the bank holiday weekend, that they needed other robot related stories. So Professors Martin Levesley and Andrew Jackson of the School of Mechanical Engineering put off their holidays for a day to demonstrate iPam, their amazing cutting edge rehabilitation robot that helps people who have had strokes to develop their arm movements again.

Keen to uncover more about Cygan’s past we made contact with the brilliant History Blog based in Georgia, Atlanta and enjoyed their kind support, and through them discovered the work and writings of Lancastrian Animatronics genius David Buckley, who we now really want to work with during March of the Robots. He, as a young man and lover of robots, heard about Cygan being in Leeds during the 60′s and took the long bus journey across the Pennines to come see Cygan at the Ford dealership he was a mascot in. Known as Mr Moto in those days. We asked for help on Twitter to fill in the missing pieces and up stepped Chris Hope Smith who got the bit beneath his teeth and started digging to discover which dealership and where, narrowing it down to a potential four. We’re still keen to discover which, it’s always gratifying to tie up the loose ends of a fabulous story. Dan of The City Talking was inspired by the decline of saucy Cygan and wrote this really great evocation, asking what next for Cygan…

Who do we have to thank?

After an initial slowish start the pledges started to come in, from kid’s pocket money, to businesses pledging in the thousands and the University of Leeds pledging a further £2k. We spoke to a lot of people within businesses who are keen to get involved in various ways during the year of March of the Robots, and met huge generosity from those who couldn’t process pledges quickly through the business but put their own personal contributions in. We were really touched by every single contribution, every bit of interest, likes on Facebook, tweets, shows of support. One particularly poignant pledge was of £3 ‘kids ice cream money’. And all the way along we’ve had tremendous support from our local authority, with personal pledges from staff and councillors. I suspect given the amount of tweeting and personal coughing up of funds from Nigel Richardson, head of Children Services, that he has a secret collection of robots at his house…

During this rather high octane period there were a number of nights I woke up in a cold sweat thinking I’d gone a bit dolally, but even those non plussed by robots or the campaign were generous enough not to wade in and say unkind things!

What great things occurred as a result?

Well we found 120 people who seem to think Cygan and the idea of March of the Robots was worth a punt! That’s incredible. That’s 120 more people than 2 weeks before. We raised a pretty good sum in all of £7221.99. We put in for the Experian pledge of £5k a day before our deadline knowing it would make all the difference but to be fair they were unable to work at such speeds. Luckily Spacehive broke with convention as our project isn’t like most building based that they host and said on the day of the auction that we could indeed bid with the funds we had collected. So working back from £7k we estimated our maximum bid would be £4k, which was still worth a punt, and was an amazingly exciting end to the 2 week campaign. We asked experienced auction bidder Adam at aql to bid for us, as I feared I might just remortgage the house in a fit of devil may care-ness! And unbeknownst to us he continued bidding right up until £10k with the intent of making up the shortfall. How incredible is that?

Video of the Live Auction of Lot 128: AN ITALIAN HUMANOID ALUMINIUM ROBOT ENTITLED ‘CYGAN’ from Cultivate on Vimeo.

As the bids went up in the £1000s quite rightly Adam stopped, and Cygan eventually went for £14 + tax and commission (£17.5k) We wish to extend our congratulations to the new custodian of Cygan and would like to catch up with them with the hope that if they are UK based we can host them during March of the Robots and show Cygan his old haunts…Furthermore we’d also like to pick up with one of the previous owners of Cygan, a Nathaniel M Goldstein of Dover Street, London as he alluded to a rather fabulous and exotic past, and said there should be a film made of Cygans adventures. Mysteriously he declined to go into detail until after the auction…

Why are we not sad?

So as an old acquaintance put it succinctly in an email to me, this was ever so slightly gloriously bonkers, and that’s just how we want it! It’s not for everybody, but Cygan and our attempt to crowd source the funds to bid for him certainly helped us find new friends, create new opportunities, understand how far we’ve got to go in describing what March of the Robots will be about, and gives us confidence that there’s an appetite for getting involved. Our mission is to be resourceful and creative and we hope we proved that with a little bit of imagination and a lack of embarrassment there are fun ways to go about exploring robots, technology and how we can all play a part in shaping a playful city we enjoy living in.

Sure we think there are things we could have done better, to reach our goal, and one might argue that making public your highest bid is no way to go about winning at auction. In fact we owe a debt to Welcome to Yorkshire’s Gary Verity in giving us some tips and hints about how we might succeed at future auctions should we come across another must have collectors item.

What next?

Well it’s heads down to the launch, and a couple of events you might like to come to are during Light Night and Morley Literature Festival. But more importantly we’re working up those plans on how we make a robot together that’s of the people of Leeds and for the people of Leeds.

Want to play with us?

*Since our campaign for Cygan we’ve had interest from the Yorkshire Evening Post, BBC Radio, BBC Look North, BBC Futures website, The City Talking, The Yorkshire Times and Leeds Trinity News Journalists ! Not bad for a Gloriously Bonkers Adventure

July 31, 2013#

Leeds creates fifty new Robots in just one day!

What a totally awesome saucesome day we had on Friday, when over 50 robot inventors and their able assistants joined us at the Trinity Leeds Customer Service Lounge to create really imaginative robots with the creator of ‘Welcome to Your Awesome Robot’ Viviane Schwarz,

Viviane who we interviewed here said ‘I’m proud to have helped facilitate the awesome robot uprising in Leeds. The humans of all sizes were friendly, curious and crafty, and the robots were… Awesome” And that was before she’d seen the photo gallery of our inventors.

Wendy Denman of Trinity Leeds Service Lounge said that she shed a huge tear as the orphaned Robots, too big to take home on the bus, were carted off to their secret laboratory on the outskirts of Leeds as she had been hoping to find them jobs in the new Trinity Kitchen when it opens in the Autumn.

If you’d like to get your mitts on the wonderful ‘Welcome to Your Awesome Robot’ check out Leeds based independent bookseller Colours May Vary. And because we like you, if you pass over a scribbled note with the words ‘PlayfulSecretRobot’ when you purchase one, we’ll treat you to something cheeky.

Check out other bots from Viv’s travels, and add yours to the Awesome RobotTumblr too.

July 18, 2013#

Awesome Robot

As part of the CBBC Live celebrations Playful Leeds and Trinity Leeds invite you to get creative with renowned graphic artist Viviane Schwarz creator of the most fantastic book for kids (and adults) Welcome to Your Awesome Robot

Workshop spaces are free but do reserve your family’s ticket (below). We think you’ll have fun for an hour or more but won’t be harassing you to move on!

All materials provided. Just bring your imagination.

Independent Bookseller Colours May Vary will be present throughout the day with a selection of Nobrow and Flying Eye Books

*Please note that an adult is required to supervise children throughout the session (maximum two children per one adult please)

Location: Trinity Leeds Shopping Centre, Customer Services Lounge (Opposite H&M – on the same floor as the entrance to The Everyman Cinema)

June 18, 2013#

Secret Robot at Leeds Gallery



On Sunday 16th June we began our Secret Robot mission at Leeds Gallery. Our Robot Inventor’s came in droves and began some TOP SECRET work on their Robot inventions.

We had a variety of Robot based activities to complete including:

  • A Robot inventor form
  • A Robot sketch
  • A Robot timeline
  • An edible Robot
  • A Robot making workshop
Each Inventor got a stamp when each activity was completed in order to track their mission status.
Our first Robot Inventors of the day filing in their forms at Reception…

We had a colourful selection of robot decorations to make our Robot biscuits.

All of our Inventors really got stuck in making their Robots!

Some of the imaginative Robot sketches done by our Inventors.

Robot Inventors hard at work doing their intricate designs.

Some of the fantastic decorated Robot biscuits.

One of our Robot Inventors with her completed Robot.

Our Robot Inventors were snapping their creations and posting them on various social media with the hashtag #secretrobots.

We were so impressed with the designs and inventions that were created at our event we have kept some of them in our Office to inspire our Senior Inventors!

The image database is available here . Have a look at all the images from the day and listen to our playlist!

I enjoyed the workshop so much and could see some great promise in every one of the Robot Inventors that came on Sunday.

I declare this mission a SUCCESS!

Now, I must get back to entering data into the Robot database.

Professor EmBot 

Our Secret Lab was set up under the strictest of testing conditions and was supported by Leeds Inspired and the Hannah Festival

October 17, 2012#

Protected: Destination DTZ?

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September 10, 2012#

Spend Spend Spend

If you are signed up to our next Playful Leeds Playspace event September 13th, you may have received something in the post by now (providing you supplied your address). But before you go into Leeds with your bounty, where are you going to try and spend it?

Well so far you can try to redeem your bills at Laynes Espresso and The Pizza Pod.

Both have a lovely gift for the first five who turn up clutching a Playful Leeds stamped poundage.

Even if you turn up after the first five have been redeemed, fear not as they’ve little rewards for you anyway. So nothing to lose and everything to play for!

Watch this space as more join playful retailers join in the fun…


September 7, 2012#

Dean Vipond

The next playful person to come under the watchful gaze of the Playful Leeds spotlight is somebody very modest, yet producing great playful work. He wouldn’t blow his own trumpet so we thought we would.  He says he’s too busy earning a crust to be playful in Leeds, but don’t be fooled. He keeps us entertained and informed about playful design and interactive games on Twitter and he’s great fun in real life too.

What’s your name then?

My name is Dean Vipond, I’m a freelance graphic and interaction designer, and my Twitter handle is, erm, @DeanVipond

What are you playing at right now?

Work-wise, I’ve been designing badges which use conductive paint and LEDs for a conference – really good fun! I’m also in the middle of redesigning the website for Unlimited Theatre – a fantastic, and playful theatre company based at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Outside of work, my daughter is seriously into Duplo, and my son has just levelled-up to Lego, so I’m doing lots of building!

Why do you think play is important?

Because life would be very dull without it, especially once you reach adulthood, and mortgages, the news and house chores threaten to take up all your free time. Look how many people play Angry Birds or do Sudoku on their commute. They’re filling up the dull parts of their lives with play.

How does a playful place make you feel? Where have you been that has made you feel that way?

The single most fun place I think I’ve ever been is the Forbidden Corner in North Yorkshire. It’s utterly insane, and a testament to one person’s eccentric mores, over and above a committee decision of what is ‘fun’. It’s kind of like a theme park, but without any rides – just a bunch of interconnected scenarios for you to explore. It’s like Alice In Wonderland, crossed with (eccentric ’80s computer game) Jet Set Willy. I went a good few years ago, before I was a parent, with my cousin and her (then 8-year-old) daughter. It was fun enough for me, but the vicarious awe and wonder our young companion felt was amazing to see.

How playful do you think Leeds is?

Well in terms of a general place, I don’t think Leeds city centre is very playful at all, unless you consider the big chess boards outside the library, which I always thought were pretty cool. It’s always felt like a very condensed, commercial centre. I worked in Leeds centre for many years, and the only things there were to do was spend money. The art gallery was too far away to visit during a lunch break, so darts in the pub was as playful as I ever got as a Leeds citizen.

The recent Brothers Quay event showed a glimmer of what was possible with the place though, if organised well, but even then it felt (understandably) orchestrated, rather than a sense of playfulness that’s part of the city’s DNA.

However, I don’t think play for play’s sake is necessarily a useful approach. It’s a bit like saying, ‘HAVE FUN NOW! GO ON!‘. As an interaction designer, I think in terms of people’s tasks – what they need to do at any given time. How can we make those tasks more fun or enjoyable? How can going to the shops be made more fun? How can we add a little levity to the mundane stuff people have to do?

If you were gifted three wishes to make Leeds more playful what would you like to see and where in Leeds?

Wish 1: A bit more open space, right in the centre, that could support a number of functions. A sandpit is a great metaphor – you can be diligent and sit making sandcastles, or you can go right the other way, and roll around like an idiot in it. So a giant, existential sandpit, please!

Wish 2: For someone to do something really clever and fun with all the empty shops in Leeds centre – something that connects them all, maybe. I’m not sure what that might be – that’s for the genie to figure out.

Wish 3: A network of tubes (like in Futurama), that can get you from Holbeck, to Clarence Dock, and up to the museums :)

What benefits do you think there would be to Leeds being more playful?

I read somewhere that road rage attacks usually happen after the attacker has suffered a number of minor irritations on the road, before one that makes them snap. Can a city do the opposite, and present a number of minor, subtle amusements, that build a sense of happiness in a person?

Do you do something that contributes to Leeds being more playful?

Right now, I don’t do anything that makes Leeds more playful. I’ve got bills to pay!

Do you feel it’s a worthwhile use of time to attempt to make Leeds a more playful place, and how would you like to be part of that movement?

In terms of Leeds centre, then it’s definitely a worthwhile exercise. It’s full of empty shops, and all that seems to be happening is that more are being built. If it was seen less as such a doggedly commercial centre, and a bit more as somewhere where you can just go, without having a wallet full of cash to do so, then that would be nice. Fanciful maybe, but nice. I’d certainly like to help with ideas around that, if the opportunity arose.

Who do you think we need to involve to help realise our mission to have a more Playful Leeds to hang out, grow up in, tell our friends about, raise families, and of course work in?

Game makers, definitely – people who understand the theory/psychology of play, and how to make it work on a grand scale. The north is full of video game talent, for example. Leeds would be a great canvas for some of their ideas. Of course, none of this can really happen in a more permanent way without the involvement of town planners and the like. And a few wild cards too – remember what I said about the Forbidden Corner? We need a few people who are just a little bonkers to stop any initiatives becoming bland, and by-committee.

Some of Dean's recent work






















September 2, 2012#

What could be…

Whilst walking around Leeds City Centre I’ve been taking pictures of empty shops, forgotten spaces, street furniture, grassy verges, litter bins and other rather functional stuff.

Ahead of our Playspace event on 13th September, we’d like to collect as many tagged images of stuff which you think could have an imaginative solution applied to it. So empty shops, office buildings could be mapped, much like artists Conway & Young’s project of a couple of years back ‘92 Empty Shops’, where they asked the public to suggest alternate uses.

Imagine how street furniture and signage could look if creativity and imagination were applied at design stage. Justhow playful could the experience of navigating our city really be?

If you snap it tag it #whatcouldbe #Leeds and we’ll collate your images and thoughts.

Even if you’re not joining us, but you come across something you feel could have great potential then snap it and tag it. Our work is just starting…