Our charity is passionate about creating places for children to play, but of course the classic play space was the street.
Unlike many of my contemporaries, I never played outside my house because I grew up on a busy road. Unfortunately, my experience is more common for this generation whose independent roaming range is tiny compared to older generations and this lack of unstructured outdoor play seriously affects children’s health and well-being. From the numerous physical benefits of being active, to getting enough vitamin D, to learning confidence and independence in the public realm, the humble playing-outside-your-house is like a miracle pill for many of the challenges our children face.
Why don’t we see children playing out?
Have parents become over protective? Have the lures of technology zapped our children’s desire to play?
The general consensus is that actually it’s the increase in traffic on our roads. Licensed vehicles in the UK increased from 4 million in 1950 to over 34 million in 2010, and we’re rapidly approaching 40 million. Fortunately the number of child deaths has not increased as dramatically, but experts put this down to children being removed from the environment rather than any improvement in street safety.
For the sake of our children’s mental and physical well-being is there anything we can do?
How we could help
One great initiative, supported by Cambridgeshire County Council, is a Play Street. This is a regular, short, neighbour-led road closure on a residential street that allows children to play on their doorsteps whilst neighbours of all ages can catch up. Locals who need to move their car can do so at walking pace with a marshall. The charity Playing Out, based in Bristol, pioneered this approach and has a wealth of resources available. They also host great webinars, including a recent one with Chris Boardman (Olympian and Active Travel England Commissioner) on how Play Streets can impact active travel (spoiler: they’re brilliant!).
So why not chat to your neighbours and create a haven for a couple of hours each month for children to play and neighbours to chat and see what joy that brings!
The Miracle Pill – why a sedentary world is getting it all wrong, by Peter Walker
Urban Playground – how child friendly planning and design can save cities, by Tim Gill
Thank you to the kind people who nominated me for the “Environmental Impact” community award and to Redmayne Arnold and Harris for the bottle of bubbly! I must however extend the congratulations and thanks to everyone who has worked alongside me over the years to make the rec more playful and a little wilder for creatures great and small.