By Meghana Injeti
Repurposing old tires into swings, upcycling cable, drum wheels and cycle rims into slides and turning upcycled material into jungle gyms could be just the solution for the reinvention of disappearing play spaces.
The People Place Project interviewed Pooja Rai, the CEO of Anthill Creations. Anthill Creations is a not-for-profit organisation aiming to bring the concept of ‘play’ back into societal lifestyle. They believe play is for all age groups, and move towards building sustainable and upcycled playscapes with the help of contextual design, local resources and community engagement.
Dedicated to enhancing the experience of play for all, they engage in collaborative projects for revitalisation of diminishing public spaces, practise sustainable-interactive designs and encourage people to take responsibility in starting discussions and learning from their surroundings.
At Anthill, they begin with site selection, transparently moving to execution, with surveying the stake-holders of the project, organising fundraisers, designing the playscape, procuring locally sourced material, and finally conducting an impact assessment.
Anthill Creations was founded in the year 2014 by five IIT Kharagpur architecture students, namely Pooja Rai, Nancy Charaya, Souradeep Paul, Vishesh Gupta and Nupur Agarwal. The year 2015-16 transformed their initial college project into a full-time passionate journey towards change.
Here is Anthill Creations on their experiences, the pandemic and more:
1. What’s the focus of your agency and how does it create a social /economic /political/cultural or any other impact?
Based out of Bengaluru, our organisation Anthill Creations is driving change by creating upcycled playscapes from used tires and scrap. In a dream run of building 250+ playscapes (active zones for enhancing learning through play) across 17+ states in the country, Anthill has created an ecosystem of inspired citizens, corporates, schools, & city officials. Anthill is creating a three-fold impact: First, Social (by creating nested playscapes within a city by mobilizing communities). Second, Economic (low cost building- maintaining, sourcing local resources and applying the essence of recycling & volunteer-engagement), and, Third, Environmental (it’s inspired by the 3R concept of recycling & reusing waste while reducing and optimizing labour costs). There’s a video testimonial of our work and projects https://youtu.be/wkppAS1RRN4.
2. What issue/ issues is your agency addressing and could you tell us what compelled the agency to begin in the first place?
Play is like the middle child, often forgotten, and always taking a back seat. For young kids, play can simply be running around, arm-wrestling with friends, building sandcastles on the beach, or singing popular music tracks in the shower. For the older generations, the various forms of play can range from early morning jogs, gossiping with co-workers, playing with pets, long drives with loved ones, or even time spent in a park watching their kids or grandkids.
In children, play enhances a range of crucial life skills, including - collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence. In today’s society however, there is an overall ignorance about the greater necessity of play for all age groups. The role of play in inducing increased productivity & learning, reducing stress, energizing the body and mind, stimulating social relationships, and contributing to happier lifestyles is hardly ever taken into account while building the cities of today.
Play is disappearing at home, at school, and in communities, particularly for the 23.6% of the Indian population living in poverty. With more & more children growing up in cities every day, it has become vital that urban planners start enabling play during the design phase itself, by taking into consideration their need for access to play & social interaction, as well as incorporating their inputs as an end-user.
Our quirky name signifies that we strive to be a strong group with ant-like motive and bonds that inspire us to build structures figuratively and literally as strong and committed as anthills.
Our journey started in college when a group of us visited a residential school, the Disha Seema Care Center for underprivileged children, located within the campus of our alma mater IIT Kharagpur. We saw little kids playing on the lawn with broken sticks and stones. Some of them were using slippers and pebbles to play badminton. Deep within, we felt that these kids deserved so much more than this! The very same year, we built our first playground, which was our college project.
The agency is based in Bangalore, well for two reasons, the city has a welcoming start-ups culture and because one of us was working there at that time. We submitted our idea to IIM-Bangalore for an incubation funding competition in October 2017 and we got it, since then we focused our attention on this project.
3. Who benefits from your projects, can you give us examples?
Anthill Creations aims to bring back play to all by mobilizing communities to install low-cost upcycled playscapes. Our focus is the user-experience, especially children. Our experiences over the years have taught us the importance of play and upcycling material, but we don’t compromise on the quality and durability of our projects.
Primarily designed for children, our playscape projects have been directly attributed to greater classroom performance, improved attendance rates, and reduced violent behaviour. These playgrounds are contextual to the child’s current setting and are built only after rigorous interaction with the children to understand their perception of life and everything around them. Anthill has transformed the children's lives from a mundane, monotonous routine in slums and classrooms to a more active, happier, and healthier one.
Let’s look at the use-cases of Government Primary School, Kamala Nagar & Saathi Shelter Home, where Anthill Creations implemented their intervention. Bursting with happiness and excitement, Ms Radha from GHPS said that since the playscape was built, the children started coming early and also stayed back after school to play. It reduced absenteeism in classes and she could totally notice a lot more freshness and focus among the kids in class after they played in the morning. An elated Mr Mounesh from Saathi Shelter Home said that the playscape helped the runaway kids from the railway stations enjoy their playtime in the shelter home. He said that play is helping these children recover from any mental trauma they have been through, while also ensuring the development of their physical strength and social skills.
4. What’s the key project taking place in your agency right now that you would like to discuss with us?
At the onset of COVID-19, with a nation-wide lockdown in place, children were not able to play in the parks and playgrounds. Now, if children couldn’t come out and play, we decided to take the play to them. Our new product ‘Play in a BOX’ gives kids a very convenient way to play & learn without leaving their house, while also having tons of fun! The starter kit contains 5-6 theme curated engagement activities involving constructive, creative, active and team play, that are hand-picked based on the child’s age-group. It is designed to inspire our young future innovators, artists, designers, makers, and scientists.
With the current pandemic situation, our operations had to be shut down for sometime but we are in the midst of planning about urban engagement solutions for a period after the pandemic, for example, when we are creating seaters in play spaces, they can be planned in a way that allows only certain number of people on a specific seater while maintaining the norms of social distancing.
5. What would a quintessential or prototypical world be from your agency’s lens? Could you explain that via an anecdote or with references/comparison with the world scenarios?
Anthill Creations envisions a well-designed city, as one consisting of interspersed green zones facilitating play and relaxation, that enhances the development and well-being of the residents while leading to an overall healthier community. Multiple precedents showcase that the built environment can affect a person’s mind and behaviour, and this brings in opportunities for city planners to influence and improve the local environment through design. Parks and playgrounds are like the lifeline to the city, counteracting global warming by filtering out harmful pollution and producing oxygen, while also providing a haven for activity, recreation, and social engagement. This also includes continuous transformation at scale driven by all stakeholders - citizens, leaders, corporates, nonprofits, as well as the government who collectively come together to make positive changes for the society to relish.
If we look at the current scenario, most cities of today promote a sedentary lifestyle. Overpopulation, increased traffic, noise pollution, and lack of walkable spaces have transformed us into a society that is increasingly staying indoors, engaged in creating a social universe within the confines of our digital counterparts. There is an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, asthma, and reduced mental health, leading to disorders like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are a few scattered cases where the local communities have come together to engage in social interventions designed to improve the livability of their cities and neighbourhoods. However, these interventions cannot scale if every individual keeps waiting for others to come up and take a stance.
Check out our work and projects on our website and social media
Anthill is on a lookout for well-intentioned collaborations with other like-minded agencies, private organisations CSR initiatives, government officials to partner on grounds of design, architecture and experiential strategies to bring about a change in developmental fabric and mechanics.
#changemakers in place-making series
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