The story of the 'Children At Play' mural starts in 1981 when the artist Stephen Pusey was approached by Lambeth council to paint a mural. As the site had not been decided, the artist and a local Lambeth officer went to look for a wall; the artist spotted what was then the wall of the fly-tower for the empty Astoria cinema (now known as the Brixton Academy or O2). Funding was raised and discussions were had with the local residents, who lived on the neighbouring Stockwell Park Estate, about what would be painted on the wall as many of them would be looking onto the finished art work.
Initial ideas had been to depict the struggle of local community as the first Brixton riots had happened months earlier. However it was felt that it would be unfair to impart a reminder of something perceived as negative onto the local community. Instead it was decided to paint images of local children playing together to show how racial harmony existed naturally between them.
It is likely that the artist used portraits of local young people. The mural was painted in Keim Silicate, a long lasting paint which should have seen the mural last for up to 100 years. The artist worked on a large scaffold using a grid method which would have made it difficult to get an idea of what the whole painting looked like.
The mural was finished in November 1982 and opened by Hugh Chambers, the Mayor of Lambeth. A wide range of organisations funded the £23,000 piece including the Greater London Arts Council, Rank Leisure Industry and Marks and Spencer. A plaque still sits hidden under the mural to commemorate the piece and those who gave financial support.
The painting still retains strong colours however water damage along the top of the mural had made the piece look tired. When work was undertaken on the building in 2011, the London Mural Preservation Society had a brief consultation with the Academy which led to artist and muralist, Paul Butler to work on the repair of the mural along with Triton Building Conservation.
The repair work was done over two weeks and so there are still areas that need repairing. However, overall the painting looks great; it's strong vibrant colours and image of young people welcoming the visitors coming by bus into Brixton.