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Play ‘completely overlooked’ in UK lockdown exit strategy

Where is play in the UK lockdown relaxation strategy? That’s the question from the Association of Play Industries (API) following publication of the government’s ‘roadmap’ to recovery.

The API said it fully appreciates the priority is preventing COVID-19 spreading further throughout the population, and supports the current closures of playgrounds and outdoor gyms in this first stage of relaxing the lockdown measures.

Our Plan to Rebuild is the UK government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy, a 50-page dossier outlining the progress the UK has made to date in tackling the coronavirus outbreak, and setting out the plans for moving to the next phase of its response to the virus. It includes sections on policies relating to children in the context of their education and schooling, and their families.

‘Grave concern’

But the API, in a statement, it added that ‘apart from a brief mention’ in step one of the strategy re-enforcing what is not possible in respect of playgrounds, children’s outdoor play was not referenced again throughout the document.

“The fundamental role that play has in children’s normal development has been completely overlooked,” says the API. “This is a cause of grave concern to all those with an interest in children’s mental and physical health.  A number of experts in children’s mental health and development, have written to the government urging that ​children’s social and emotional wellbeing be prioritised in all decisions relating to the easing of lockdown.

On the specific issue of outdoor play, the government roadmap makes no reference to children, only saying that while the new measures mean people can now exercise as many times as they wish, ‘they are still not able to use areas like playgrounds and outdoor gyms’.

‘Free play provision is an essential public facility’

The API added: “Lockdown is a brutal measure to impose on all children but it has a disproportionately negative impact on the most disadvantaged in society.  Those children with no access to outside space, in flats or houses without gardens, will be living a wholly different experience to those in more privileged areas.  Free, community play provision for all is an essential public facility and goes a long way towards addressing children’s inequality.

“The welfare of children is paramount in this crisis and whilst the priority is, of course, their safety, it is alarming that children’s right to play freely outdoors has not received any government attention.  Playgrounds are a key way in which children will be able to heal from the effects of lockdown.

“We are calling upon the government to set out the phase in which a return to children’s play in public playgrounds could be considered, and to outline the safety guidelines required so that playgrounds can operate safely when conditions allow.  This is urgently needed to provide hope for children, parents and communities and also to allow local authorities to apply the modifications needed,” concluded the API’s statement.

Author: Simon Weedy

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