OPAL MENTORS UK TEAM

Michael Follett
Director

I am the founding director of OPAL. I am a former school improvement adviser, teacher and playworker. I now speak on play in schools and early years internationally… Find out more


Neil Coleman
OPAL Midlands
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OPAL Midlands is a regional office of OPAL, established in the Home Counties to give easier access and support for schools, early years settings and organisations located in the London, East and South-East area of England. Neil Coleman, who runs OPAL Midlands, trained alongside Michael to become an accredited OPAL Mentor in early 2013. Neil is able to offer all OPAL services.. Find out more


Ingrid Wilkinson
OPAL North East

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Ingrid delivers the OPAL programme in and around Newcastle and the North-East.

I have a degree in Playwork, formally worked for Play England and am experienced in working with schools and supporting change within organisations… Find out more


Kurti Birkenbeil
OPAL South

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Kurti delivers the OPAL programme in and around Brighton, the south coast, Sussex, Hampshire and London.

“Feeling passionate about the power of play ever since I climbed on board of a Playbus, back in 1998 in Hamburg, to work with refugee children. They had no common language but I witnessed how the power play brought them together in joy. Since then I have studied Playwork (University of Brighton, FDA), promoted and provided for Article 31, the Children’s Right to Play in social hotspots, schools for children with additional needs, run mobile summer community play programs and free play centred family days for children and their imprisoned fathers at HMP Lewes. After running Brighton and Hove City Council’s Playbus for a decade I joined in 2016 the play forces with Michael Follett & OPAL. If only both my boys could have enjoyed an OPAL school. I feel deeply grateful to make a difference to an ever-growing number of school children enjoying and benefiting from rich and diverse player offers on every school day! “


Rachel Murray
OPAL South West

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Rachel delivers the OPAL Programme around Bristol, Bath and Gloucestershire

Rachel Murray is a trainee OPAL mentor in Gloucestershire. Rachel is also the Play Coordinator at Blue Coat Primary school in Wotton under Edge. Over the last five years, she has worked within the school, supporting play at both a strategic and operational level, earning the UK’s first 100% OPAL Platinum level audit in July 2019 and two national Playwork Awards. Rachel was the national winner of the Inspiring Educator Award at the annual Learning Outside the Classroom Awards 2016.
Previously to her work with OPAL and Blue Coat, Rachel was Director of Learning at the At-Bristol science centre (now called We the Curious).


Ana Ardelean
OPAL North

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Ana delivers the OPAL Programme in and around Leeds, Yorkshire and Manchester.

Ana is a previous playworker, children’s service manager and trainer, current lecturer in Childhood Development and Playwork and play consultant.

Ana’s background is in playwork and front line work with children. She has 15 years of experience working in many different play settings in various countries; nurseries, schools, after school and holiday clubs, playschemes and special needs support services, refugee camps and more. She then moved on to play service management and development, playwork training and consultancy. At the moment she is researching play in refugee children and supporting schools across Yorkshire to improve the state of children’s play. Ana also sits on the trustee board as a treasurer of the International Play Association (England branch).


Kate Smith
OPAL West-South-West

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Kate delivers the OPAL programme to schools in the far south-west in and around Devon, Dorset and Somerset.

Kate has a masters degree in playwork from The University of Gloucestershire. She works as a playworker in an adventure playground and has experience of working in primary schools. In her adventure playground work, Kate has seen how effectively children can manage their own play and their own risk.


Mike Barclay
OPAL North-West

For more than 10 years, Mike was the play sufficiency lead for Wrexham Council before going on to support other organisations and communities in their work with children’s play. In doing so he has led on the completion of play sufficiency assessments and the implementation of associated action plans. This has involved participatory research with children; coordinating partnership working in support of children’s play; encouraging local authority departments and partner agencies to develop more play-centred policies and practices; working to ensure that play and playwork are integral to the planning of services for children and that further restrictions on children’s time and space for play are avoided whenever possible. Mike has presented on the topics of play sufficiency, playwork and risk management at local and national conferences. He has also written for a range of publications and his research has been referenced in other similar studies. Mike is currently a trustee of the Wrexham Youth & Play Partnership and an honorary tutor at the University of Manchester. He is also a qualified playworker, design engineer and adult trainer, and has a background in out of school childcare and staffed play provision.


Ben Tiwal

OPAL North-West

Ben has worked in early years settings, in management positions at two adventure playgrounds and as National Play Development officer for Play Wales. He has also lectured in the subjects of childhood studies and play in both Higher and Further Education. Ben has worked on research projects investigating the effects of loose parts play on children’s physical activity, the sufficiency assessment of children’s opportunities for play, the influence of a playwork recess intervention on the school community and the development of suitable processes for managing risk is staffed children’s play settings. Ben’s work has appeared in industry publications including: Ip-Dip, Childcare Professional, Play For Wales and the Journal of Playwork Practice. He has also written for edited books including: Foundations of Playwork, Playwork Theory into Practice, The Venture a Case Study of an Adventure Playground and Aspects of Playwork. Ben routinely either delivers conference and training events or speaks at them; of most note recently this has included co-facilitating Play in School and Public Health events with Play Wales and the Home Life events he developed and delivered in both North and South Wales.


OPAL International

OPAL in Canada – Brenda Simon

OPAL was introduced into Canada was by Brenda Simon, a human rights lawyer and teacher, who began with PLAYbynature in 2011 to advocate for play provision in Ontario, Canada.    In 2013, Brenda travelled to Bristol to learn about OPAL U.K., becoming Canada’s first certified OPAL mentor. In 2014, Brenda contributed to the Position Statement on Outdoor Active Play,  which created a new public awareness of play deprivation in Canada.  With support from the Lawson Foundation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Brenda joined forces with Earth Day Canada to form a partnership with the Toronto District School Board.

OPAL grew, under Brenda’s leadership, from a small early years pilot at 6 schools to a $1.3 million programme, reaching almost 50 schools over 4 years and approx.16,000 school children from kindergarten to Grade 6. Three school boards eventually participated:  the Toronto District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the York Region District School Board.  The project included a commissioned study and 3 professional learning days reaching over 600 educators. In 2020 Transform Lab completed a second study of the OPAL.

In 2019, the Dr Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School (JICS) at the University of Toronto became Canada’s first laboratory school to adopt OPAL.  Hundreds of educators visit the JICS Lab School each year from across the globe to learn more about its developmental focus, the research and inquiry-led teaching practices that make it a global leader in education.

Brenda has written Recommendations for a Play Policy that would bring play-work principles to all of the 451 elementary schools in the TDSB, Canada’s largest school board.

Brenda (Twitter: @BrendaRoseSimon) is currently the Program Director of Natural Curiosity (Twitter: @naturlcuriosity) at the JICS Lab School, Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, University of Toronto.


Linda Naccarato

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Linda is happy to work with schools in the Toronto area delivering the Canadian version of the OPAL programme.

Linda Naccarato is from Toronto. Working under Brenda Simon (see above) she became Canada’s second certified OPAL mentor in 2017. With a background in art and environmental education, Linda brings a passion for creative learning and community engagement to her work with the OPAL program.