#PlayMustStay – invest in public play spaces or children face ‘perpetual lockdown’

Play industry leaders in the United Kingdom say that without sustained national investment in public play places, children face ‘perpetual lockdown’.

The Association of Play Industries (API) says that this ‘extraordinary pandemic’, in addition to the lives lost and affected for ever, there has also been a ‘renewed appreciation’ of those public services people take granted, and a reappraisal of what ‘essential’ really means.

“When public playgrounds were closed in the first lockdown, it brought their ‘essential’ status sharply into focus,” it adds.

With the majority of UK children living in urban areas and one in eight households having no outdoor space, millions were left with nowhere to play, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds were the most affected. Currently, despite Government guidelines to keep playgrounds open in lockdown, *primarily for those families without gardens, some authorities are failing to do so plunging many families into despair.

This unique pause presents us with a rare opportunity to transform children’s lives through the power of outdoor play

Children, it adds, were being driven indoors long before official lockdown. The combined effects of the widespread closure of play spaces in recent years and the toxic lure of screens and technology, meant that increasingly, children were spending their time indoors, sedentary and alone.  This year of lockdown after lockdown has profoundly compounded this effect.

Mark Hardy, Chair of the Association of Play Industries, Mark Hardy, says: “This unique pause presents us with a rare opportunity to transform our children’s lives through the power of outdoor play.  By re-imagining our public spaces, we can reverse the alarming decline in the number of public play spaces which has quietly been taking place, local authority by local authority.

“We must put children at the heart of recovery. Playground closures are nothing short of catastrophic for children’s mental health, fitness, development and overall wellbeing.  If we continue to fail to view communities from the perspective of children there will be more and more closed, neglected and often dangerous environments where there once stood a precious play space created exclusively with children in mind.”

Uniting the Movement: 5 Big Issues

This move builds on a new strategy by Sport England, an arms-length body of government responsible for growing and developing grassroots sport and getting more people active across England, aimed at transforming lives and communities through sport and physical activity.

The API praised Sport England for introducing Uniting the Movement, a 10-year vision which includes ‘5 Big Issues’ that focus on children and play:

  • Recover and reinvent – Place children at the heart of recovery by building a sustainable network of public play spaces.
  • Connecting Communities – Playgrounds are often the heart of the community, where parents, grandparents, neighbours and children from all walks of life go to meet.
  • Positive experiences for children and young people – Safe, challenging and stimulating play spaces give children the freedom to play, socialise and have fun in a space dedicated to them.
  • Connecting with health and wellbeing – Active children become active adults, giving them the lifelong joys and benefits of an active life.
  • Active environments – Local and accessible ‘doorstep’ playgrounds make it easier for all children to get active.

“We welcome Sport England’s new 10-year vision – Uniting the Movement – and in particular their 5 Big Issues,” says Mark `Hardy.  “It’s crucial now that we come together as a nation to ensure that everyone has equal access to the benefits of exercise and for children this means outdoor play. We particularly welcome the strategy’s focus on tackling and preventing inequality: community playgrounds are great levellers as open-to-all public spaces in which ALL children can play freely and safely.”

Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive of Sport England, said: “This strategy comes at a critical time. Alongside the National Lottery and government, we have made significant funding available, but many organisations are struggling, and activity levels have taken a significant hit. But amid all that challenge and uncertainty, we believe there are also enormous opportunities to fast-track the role sport and physical activity plays in helping people to live happier, healthier lives

Author: Simon Weedy

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