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New skills for kids

21 January 2021, Voices from the Field

Cubbies proves it’s more than just an adventure playground

Cubbies has been known for decades as an adventure playground – a “backyard” for children from the urban jungle of Fitzroy to play on rescued and recycled junkyard equipment. Built in the 1970s, it’s given thousands of children over the years a space to imagine, to create and to play.  

Save the Children has been delivering the Cubbies program at the Cubbies Fitzroy Adventure Playground since 2015 - a free program operating after school hours four times a week funded by the City of Yarra. We provide unstructured and structured activities, support children to create their own opportunities for play, and build their resilience through access to positive mentors.

But during 2020 as playground activities paused due to Victoria’s COVID-19 lockdown, the true spirit of Cubbies emerged. More than just a playground, the community hub became an important space for families from the Atherton Gardens Estate to keep in touch, stay on top of new public health alerts, and get support for their children’s remote learning. 

Oliver Doreian has been a Save the Children Youth Worker at Cubbies for the last five years. He says for residents in the housing estate having Cubbies staff on hand to provide ongoing support provided stability among fast-changing advice. 

A place of stability 

When the Flemington Towers were locked down, there was an incredible amount of fear and anxiety for Atherton residents too. They felt like they were next. They were very heightened around every change that occurred. For example, when the state of emergency was announced, they were scared. I had to explain it gave the government the power to change things more quickly.


Oliver worked alongside local community leaders and fellow residents to get accurate and timely information to residents through face-to-face catch-ups, phone calls, and a WhatsApp group that was quickly set up. “We worked alongside our community members to help relay messages because there are so many different language groups within the community that we work in. We shared translated resources and explained what was going on and why. In our WhatsApp group we would share information about changes in restrictions, when to get tested and check in to see how people were going. And when we were allowed to, we did care package drop-offs.” 

We supplied regular care-packages to families including hand sanitizer and body wash kindly donated to us by Sukin and 435 individual activities to 72 children thanks to the additional support from our corporate partners like IKEA and Lego. “Through that WhatsApp quickly became a fun platform for us to share ‘how to’ videos and families to share their creations,” says Oliver. 

A place of calm 

When restrictions eased, Oliver was excited to resume the Cubbies program – a facilitated youth-led program of activities that takes place four afternoons a week. From bike repair to yoga to gardening, and more, Cubbies gives children a chance to move beyond the playground to things they can learn about and grow. 

Before COVID-19 restrictions, we had about 60 to 80 people per session. In the current environment, we limit participation to 50 people per session to ensure a safe and controlled environment. We facilitate life skills, like cooking, yoga, or gardening, and we run a bike program as well.


“It's not structured like a school program,” he explains. “It’s very free-flowing and the kids have a lot of autonomy. The parents are a big part of the program as well, they'll come and hang out with the other parents on our family days.” The Cubbies program is focused on being child-led and play-based, as it’s through play that children can discover their own interests, abilities and limitations. 

Lately what’s sparked the imaginations of the children, and the budget consciousness of the adults has been the fruit and vegetable garden grown within the playground grounds. 

A place to learn and grow

There’s an abundance of food grown here, from tomatoes and potatoes (which the kids prefer) to chilies and Chinese broccoli (for the parents). From seed to harvest, children are encouraged to get involved with all aspects. 
“I always ask what they want to grow,” says Oliver. “A lot of the mums come in for specific herbs like mint or other veggies they cook with regularly. They feel comfortable to just come in and take what they need.” 

Also growing in the garden are vegetables the families may not be too familiar with, like broad beans or kale. “They think it’s a funny tasting lettuce,” laughs Oliver. 

To help the families acquaint themselves with new foods, Cubbies joined with Save the Children’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities program and ran cooking classes with Cultivating Community to show kids how they could use some of the fresh produce to create healthy meals. Over three weeks, 30 children used sweet potatoes, zucchinis, beetroot and more to make a three-course meal. 

A place of safety

This year, Oliver and his team are keen to continue to provide a place for the community to gather safely as we move through the pandemic. “We hope we can just get back to normality. Everybody has learnt recently you miss the things that you take for granted. So our goal is to just bring back that stability to the community. To keep providing for them a space that they can come to a couple of times a week and enjoy the safe outdoor space with all its opportunities for play, which they missed out on during lockdown.” 

“We would love to run a regular school holiday program for the kids as well,” says Oliver. “We’re so thankful for funding from our supporters and partners, but we’d love to see a more sustainable ongoing partnership so we can give the kids even more activities during the holidays that they can learn from and take home to their families too.” 

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