Belfast makes participation the key to creating child friendly public space

In Northern Ireland, children’s needs are not always considered in decision making in relation to the physical environment. In Belfast, the city centre could significantly benefit from more child friendly space, where children are welcome and free to use the space in their own way.

Now, Belfast Healthy Cities has launched a Child Friendly Places Action Plan, ‘Taking action for child friendly places: First Steps, Strategic Approach & Action Plan for Belfast June 2016’. This is based on extensive engagement with primary school children and aims to begin a process of creating child friendly places in Belfast by responding to the priorities identified by children.

Children’s wishes are relatively simple; cleaner, calmer, greener streets and public spaces and more connected communities

Belfast is a lead member of the World Health Organization (WHO) European Healthy Cities Network. Child Friendly Places has been a core aspect of Belfast Healthy Cities programme of work since 2011.


Underpinning the plans is the principle that child friendly places are an important signal that children are valued members of society. In addition, child friendly environments in towns and cities can help support economic development and regeneration by supporting and attracting families.  Similarly, the opportunities we provide for children to participate in decision making, affect their willingness and ability to participate in society.

Participation and engagement is key in children’s place making. Below outlines a range of innovative methods used to inform the development of the action plan.

Approximately 5000 children were directly engaged using the following methods:

  • The ‘Shaping Healthier Neighbourhoods for Children’ initiative gave primary school children an opportunity to share their views for their local environments. The initiative engaged over 400 children, aged 8-11 years across the city, between 2011 and 2014.
  • ‘KidsSpace’ is a pop up event, which explores the creation of child friendly space in the city centre. The events have attracted an average of 1,000 children and families, and have also been used as a platform for public engagement on child friendly places through art based consultation exercises.
  • A schools survey was targeted at 7-8 year olds and 10-11 year olds in primary schools and 11-12 year olds and 13-14 year olds in post primary schools, asking respondents to rate their neighbourhood and propose suggestions for change. In total 1,200 responses were received.
  • An additional model of engagement took the form of a four day ‘Planning my City’ event. The event centred around mini workshops supporting children to plan and build their own city with a miniature city model using key planning principles.

This work has created a collaborative model for engaging with children and the invaluable feedback collated from children has been used to develop and inform a strategy to begin to develop a more Child Friendly Belfast.


Engagement with children indicated that they do not demand a redesign of the city, their wishes are relatively simple; cleaner, calmer, greener streets and public spaces and more connected communities. The same wishes have been highlighted by other groups, and in many ways this highlights that a child friendly city might create a better environment for people of all ages.

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Author: Laura McDonald

Photo Credit: photo credit Laura McDonald & Belfast

For further information please contact Laura McDonald

Interested in hearing more about this topic? Join us at the Child in the City Conference in Ghent, Belgium on the 7-9th November!

Author: Laura McDonald

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