Much-loved Hackney Playbus celebrates 50-year anniversary

Hackney Playbus in Springfield Park

The popular Hackney Playbus charity marked its 50th birthday with “amazing” celebrations at The Edge Youth Hub on Woodberry Grove last month.

Hackney’s deputy mayor Cllr Anntoinette Bramble was in attendance as guests paid tribute to the charity’s five decades of work supporting children and families.

More than a hundred children and their families were at the event.

The charity was founded in 1973 by Pauline Weinstein, and runs free stay-and-play sessions for families with children aged up to four, using its famous double-decker bus that has been converted into an early years’ play space.

The team focuses on engaging marginalised families who may struggle to access mainstream services, and those with care and support needs; this has contributed to the organisation’s success, and has provided an invaluable service to local parents and carers.

The Playbus currently puts on five sessions a week in public spaces and runs an indoor baby group in De Beauvoir.

The team builds supportive relationships with parents, carers, and children, which is why many in the community came together to celebrate the 50th birthday.

As part of the celebrations, there were speeches from co-founder Anthony Kendall, Debbie Weinstein, the daughter of the Playbus’s co-founder Pauline Weinstein, and Aya Haidar, a local parent who uses the service.

Haidar gave a moving tribute for Ian Hastings, a play worker and driver for the charity who sadly passed in December 2022.

Debbie Weinstein, daughter of Playbus co-founder Pauline Weinstein. Photograph: Oliver Churm

The event featured face-painting, badge-making, soft play, balloon-modelling, and more.

“It was so lovely to celebrate with so many families from Hackney’s diverse communities,” one attendee said.

Live music featured, from Hackney musicians and entertainers, Double Bass Dan and Abdoulaye Samb.

Charity director Claire Kelly emphasised the importance of the event.

“Partly as an excuse for a party,” she joked, “and to bring together and say ‘thank you’ to all our supporters, we wanted to celebrate the success of our approach to working in the community.”

The mobile nature of the Playbus has contributed to its success, as a unique, friendly, and welcoming service that can “go where the need is”, Kelly explained.

A number of councillors, current and former trustees, colleagues from health and social care, and other community partners were in attendance.

Ned Williams, Hackney Playbus’s first ever driver, was also present, and a film he created of the charity’s first ever session in 1972 was screened.

When reflecting on the next 50 years, Kelly said: “As a small charity, it’s hard to think very long term.

“We have a five-year plan – and the main theme is to continue to focus efforts on reaching children really in need of support.

“Sadly, there seems to be more and more with the cost-of-living crisis and the high levels of homelessness and housing issues in the borough now.”

The party was “even better than expected”, she said, and the Playbus team looks forward to more years of helping and nurturing local children.