About Common Threads

Common Threads started out as a consultancy in the 1990s. At the time, Shelly Newstead had been working in the playwork sector for a while, on open access playschemes and developing out of school clubs. A growing demand for Shelly’s unique brand of playwork training led to her going self-employed, setting up Common Threads Consultancy. The name ‘Common Threads’ referred to Shelly’s original vision of bringing together the diverse range of adults working in children’s play to develop playwork theory and practice for the benefit of children.

Common Threads Consultancy grew to the point where it needed to become a more established organisation and in 2002 two separate limited companies were set up. Common Threads Training Ltd went on to employ six office staff and over fifty trainers across the UK. This team developed and delivered playwork training for most of the Local Authorities in England over the next decade. Common Threads Publications Ltd was set up specifically to develop new playwork publications and resources, as at that time very few of the major publishers would publish playwork books.

In 2008 the playwork field was hit hard by the banking crisis in Iceland and much of the support and funding for playwork was stripped out of local authorities. Common Threads Training hung on until 2011, but then had to close and transferred what little training work it had left to Common Threads Publications Ltd. In 2009 Shelly began a doctoral programme at Institute of Education, London, supervised by Professor Peter Blatchford as her research was originally based on her work in primary schools across the UK. However, the original research question, ‘Does adopting a playwork approach change the way that children play in school playgrounds?’ stalled when it became impossible to measure a playwork approach due to the lack of a measurable model of playwork practice. In an attempt to find out if any such model had been previously invented and forgotten about, Shelly spent the best part of the next ten years buried in forgotten literature by the UK adventure playground pioneers and ended up creating the PARS model of playwork practice from that research.

During that time Shelly was also delivering playwork training in Hong Kong and was testing out bits of the PARS model on these courses. People started attending these courses from mainland China and Australia and asked if they could take the PARS model back to their own countries. Common Threads then created a licensing and support system to enable others to develop and deliver PARS training. In the last two years the PARS family has grown from a handful of trainers in three countries to a flourishing community of more than twenty trainers and thousands of practitioners using PARS in 16 different countries. Common Threads Playwork (our new trading name) also became an NCFE International Award Centre in 2021 and in 2022 and 2023 scored perfect marks in two annual inspections.

Despite the minor changes in name and activity in the last thirty years, quality and community remain at the heart of everything we do here at Common Threads. Our original purpose – to develop and share playwork practice for the benefit of children – is still very much what we are all passionate about. Our ‘office team’ are a fantastic bunch of dedicated people who all have a real interest in ensuring that children can enjoy some time out from the adult world around them, and our PARS Licensed Trainers around the world continually work as a team to develop PARS playwork practice internationally. Although originally set up as a company, Common Threads Playwork has always behaved as a social enterprise, with everything we do focussed on profiting children, rather than ourselves.

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