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Getting kids to enjoy outdoors isn't child's play; EDITED BY SALLY MCLEAN; A youth project gave Michaela Collins a lifeline as a wee girl.. now she's working to help the scheme as an adult.

Byline: MARIA CROCE

WHEN Michaela Collins was a child, there wasn't anywhere safe for her to play outside.

The now 26-year-old and her friends grew up in Glasgow's east end and they were faced daily with drug deals, drinking, prostitution and gangs on the streets.

But when Michaela was nine, the PEEK project was launched in her community - to help kids enjoy playing safely outdoors.

She says the initiative changed her life and now works as PEEK's play development manager, helping other young people improve their lives.

Research has shown that children with higher levels of active outdoor play have better cognition, resulting in better academic performance in reading and maths.

Physically active play makes kids more mentally alert and helps them focus in school.

Michaela said: "When PEEK started in October 2000, the streets weren't safe for children to go out and play. There was a rise in gang violence, drug abuse and alcohol addiction was prevalent for young people growing up in the east end.

"When it was dark, gangs took over the streets. We'd see prostitutes and drug deals every day. Young people didn't have any other option but to join gangs. There was no youth provision or positive role models.

"There wasn't anything for us to do. Parents went to the local church and said, 'We need help. These kids need something safe for them to do.'" Community arts worker Melodie Crumlin was brought in to help and PEEK was born. Now, she is the organisation's chief executive.

Michaela added: "We were lucky that PEEK stepped in. It gave us options instead of hanging out on the streets. We did dance workshops, learned how to DJ or played football on the street with a youth worker."

PEEK now work with more than 1000 children and young people up to the age of 25 in 34 of Glasgow's most disadvantaged communities - delivering free activities on the themes of play, create and thrive.

They also support children in reclaiming areas such as play parks where they are joined by play rangers who get them taking part in sport and climbing trees.

Michaela lost friends at an early age through addiction and others have ended up in prison. PEEK gave her the chance of a better future.

Michaela left school at 15 with no qualifications but PEEK offered her work and supported her into college.

She went on to work and study in various countries including Australia, Africa and America. And she has continued to help other young people improve their lives through play.

The Scottish Government's are running a year-long Away and Play campaign, delivered by Inspiring Scotland, to highlight the benefits of free and unstructured play, particularly outdoors, in encouraging imagination, promoting risk-taking, improving health and helping children collaborate. PEEK have received support from Inspiring Scotland through their Go2Play fund.

Michaela has already seen the benefits. She said: "We see an increase in attendance rates and young people wanting to stay on at school. We also see their confidence and self-esteem grow."

For more details, search the hashtag #awayandplay or go to www.inspiringscotland.org.uk/what-we-do/thematic-funds/go2pla

CAPTION(S):

GOOD SPORT Michaela, right, likes to get down and dirty when playing with the kids

LET'S PLAY A PEEK youth worker organises a game of football

THE GREAT OUTDOORS Boys have fun in a park. Pic: Getty
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 17, 2018
Words:561
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