Pauline Weinstein (1930 – 2020) was an advocate for early years childcare and co-founder of the Hackney Playbus. The Playbus is still in operation after 50 years having been one of the first services of its kind in the UK. A qualified teacher, she worked at the therapeutic community Bodenham Manor under the management of childcare pioneer David Wills before relocating to Hackney with her husband Judah Weinstein. As well as managing the Playbus, Weinstein was actively involved with the Pre-school Playgroup Association (PPA), and the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (PRA) also in Hackney.
In 1996 Weinstein recorded an oral history interview for permanent preservation, which is now part of the digital holdings at the Planned Environment Therapy Archives and Special Collections. The interview captures her memories of the radical beginnings of the Hackney Playmobile, as it was then called in 1972. Weinstein creates a picture of a vibrant urban community coming together to provide young mothers with support, literally on their doorstep, and discusses the lack of education and awareness of services for under fives in and around Hackney at the time.
Weinstein’s ambition was to bring the playgroup to the community and use it as a way to educate struggling families about schools, childcare services, doctors surgeries, health clinics and parenting skills. She recognised that many families were stuck in poverty and couldn’t access support services due to travel and financial restrictions. 50 years later the Hackney Playbus remains committed to Weinstein’s mission to make playgroups universally accessible:
The survival of the Playbus can be attributed to the spirit of the people of Hackney, and the dedication of Pauline Weinstein. The concept was supported from the start by Hackney Council due to the friendship between Weinstein and Councillor.
Below is an excerpt from the interview. As one reads it, or listens to her modest anecdotes, it’s easy to forget how many lives have been improved by her slightly leftfield idea of running a playgroup on a bus. Lives that may otherwise not have had toys to play with.
I hope you will enjoy this excerpt as much as I did.
Pauline Weinstein, 22nd June 1996, interviewed by Craig Fees of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust (Ref: TCVOICES/173)
‘Lewisham had just bought a playbus, so it was the first playbus in the country, and I thought, “If we had a playbus in this playground, we could bring in these adolescent kids, and they could be working with the little ones on the bus…
So I decided to buy a bus. So I created a committee…and I literally went out and bought the bus. I went down to a big bus depot in south London somewhere or other, and I said to them, “I want to buy a bus.” And they said, “Right.” And they’d got all these – I used to know what it was called, the R – R.A – anyway, a number – which had just been put out of commission. But in fact apparently some of the best buses London ever ran. You know, real good old stock. And they were all in perfectly good nick, but they just substituted these flat fronted ones. They were the ones with the, you know, half window and…the engine sticking out, that’s right. And I’ve forgotten how we raised the money, actually. It was about two hundred and fifty. Anyway, I bought this bus. It was great fun. I don’t know how we got it back to Hackney actually, but we got it back to Hackney.
And it was absolutely marvellous, actually, because everybody was wonderful, you know. You wanted to paint it, so you went to the local paint – I.C.I. or whoever it was at the time, and they gave us gallons of paint. We got one of the local schools to paint it for us. We got somebody else to take the seats out and install sandpits and water facilities. I’ve still got some seats in the shed actually from the playbus. And we converted the top into sort of quiet space, you know, with desks and tables and things like that. It was great. And we then – we must have raised money from somewhere. I must have done a lot of money raising. And we then employed a driver-cum-playgroup leader, and we drove it round to the different estates in Hackney. You know, Homerton we’d be one day, and another day we’d be somewhere else. And the idea – I mean my original idea of having the adolescents sort of disappeared, and we decided to run it as a straight playgroup substitute.
So the idea was to go into, say, somewhere like Homerton, where there was no playgroup, no facilities, nothing at all for the mothers with young children, encourage them to come on to the bus, and sort of encourage the mothers to get together and fight for a playgroup of their own. So that’s what we did. And that’s what happened. So, you know, eventually – we got a lot of support from the local council – but eventually a room – well, in one case a whole flat was put aside as a playgroup for that particular estate. And they would run it on a voluntary basis, and then eventually they would, you know, gather enough money – there was money available in those days – enough money to pay the play leader, and so on.
And so of course then the need for training the play leaders came along. So by that time I’d be – I was being employed part time as the playgroup organiser for the Hackney area, from the Pre-school Playgroup Association, which was by then a national organisation. And that’s been running – it hadn’t been going that long, and that all came out from a letter in the Guardian. You know, some people complaining about lack of pre-school provision for children, and the P.P.A. was formed. So that was all – you know, that history is quite an interesting one, the formation of the Pre-school Playgroup Association.
Anyway, I was one of the co-ordinators for the area, so I was visiting established playgroups, helping to set up, establish playgroups, and running the bus – or helping organise the bus, I wasn’t actually working on the bus. I never learnt to drive it, I always regretted that. I wished I’d learnt to drive it. I always thought, “If I learn to drive it, I shall get hooked in when somebody’s ill,” so I decided not to learn to drive it. And then I started running courses for playgroup leaders through the local colleges, as adult education courses, having been trained first myself by somebody called Hilda Treveski, who was an incredible woman, who’s worth a story in her own right. And then – and by this time we’d started…sort of big magazines we produced, called Under Fives – Hackney Under Fives, that’s right. And this was all about all the provision for under fives.
And we co-ordinated – or we formed a committee and we co-ordinated all the under
five provision in the area, so there were some day places, pre-school playgroup, child
minders’ groups, you know, the lot. So everybody in Hackney who wanted to knew where
they could take their kids, and what provision there was, what training there was. And we
used to have a lot of sort of outdoor events in the park, and sort of activities – Centreprise
was the centre for a lot of things. And anyway, at this time the need for trained child
minders was becoming evident, because most child minders were not trained, and an awful
lot of horrible things were happening as a result. Do you know about child minders? Yes.
So we set up child minder training groups – courses – as well. And a number of other things
like that. Sometimes I was involved in the organisation, sometimes involved in the actual
For the full interview and further information about Pauline Weinstein’s life and career please visit our online catalogue: https://archives.mulberrybush.org.uk/records/TCVOICES/173
For further information on other collections relating to early years and childcare history please feel free to get in touch directly: [email protected]
Debra Doggett, Senior Archivist
Planned Environment Therapy Archives and Special Collections
The Mulberry Bush