This article was published in 2018, in Newsletter 139.
If ‘children in my day’ social posts by my generation are anything to go by, there is a general consensus that children spend less time playing out in their neighbourhood streets than did their parents or grandparents. Sometimes the posts come with concern over screen-time, or a warning about stranger-danger; however, high on the list of causes must surely be the increases in size and number of private motor vehicles over the years.
Playing Out is hoping to reverse these trends. It is a parent- and resident-led movement restoring children’s freedom to play out in the streets and spaces where they live, for their health, happiness and sense of belonging. The main focus is on helping parents and residents to organise Playing Out sessions on their street or spaces close to home. Where necessary this may include a formal road closure to ensure the safety of participants, or marshals to supervise drivers passing the session.
Why is play in the street so important? Children need ample space to play energetically. Many homes do not have gardens, or in cities gardens tend to be small. Many children can’t get to parks and other open spaces easily, whereas the street is instantly accessible. The street is a blank canvas, allowing for child-led free play, providing important social and learning opportunities as opposed to structured, organised activities in designated spaces. Playing in the street allows for ‘semi-supervised’ play. Parents can get on with housework or looking after other children in the house while allowing children to play outside. Children are far more likely to play outside frequently if allowed to play near their home, rather than relying on parents to take them somewhere else, like the park. Finally, the street is the ‘starting point for all journeys’ (Tim Gill). The ability to play independently in their home street is a first step towards greater independent mobility around the neighbourhood – to visit friends, go to the park or walk to school.
The Playing Out website (playingout.net) provides regular blogs with advice to help make playing out as easy as possible, as well as suggestions for small, personal actions that can have a big impact. For example, taking your cup of tea or newspaper to the front garden or pavement and greeting passers-by. Or simply leaving your door open while in during the day, signalling to neighbours and passers-by that you are at home and that there are ‘eyes on the street’.
One Camcycle member has been enthusiastically supporting a session on his street. ‘I’d say that last weekend we probably [had] 40 children playing in our road. We are starting to get families coming from nearby roads as well. I think it’s been a really good initiative.’ It bodes well for future members too: ‘the next day my three year old – who has just learnt to ride his bike, and spent the whole hour pedalling up and down the road – asked “is the road closed today as well?” in a hopeful voice.’
Would you be able to help more of these sessions take place? The county council wants to encourage residents to start these Playing Out sessions by finding Playing Out Champions. They are offering a free one-day training course in marshalling. As a trained event marshal you will be able to advise residents on a local traffic plan for their event, and on the day supervise where to place the ‘road closed’ signs and cones, and guide drivers in and out. It is also an opportunity to earn Community Time credits – if you spend one hour helping your community, you will earn one time credit, which can be exchanged for a variety of things, from exercise classes to cinema and theatre tickets. For more information please contact Paul Connelly (Youth & Community Coordinator) at Cambridgeshire County Council by email: Paul.firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile: 07966 042609.