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Are children’s play opportunities across UK nations a ‘postcode lottery’?

Is something simple as their address the reason why children in Northern Ireland are not getting the same opportunities for play as their peers across the UK?

The ‘postcode lottery’ question comes on the back of a study by the Association of Play Industries (API), following its Equal Play campaign based on research showing that access to play across the four ‘home nations’ varies significantly from region to region.
Data obtained by the API under a Freedom of Information to the government showed that some regions have almost five times the free-to-access play provision available in England, Wales or Scotland.
The API says that, within the context of these anomalies, it has been inundated with requests for more localised data, and as a result it has been sharing maps which show the situation in each of the UK nations – with Northern Ireland faring particularly badly.
Mark Hardy, API chair, said: “The average number of children per playground in Northern Ireland is 447. However, a more detailed look at the data reveals as much inequity in play provision in NI as anywhere else in the UK.“The data shows that children who live in the most densely populated areas in Northern Ireland have the worst access to outdoor play spaces.  It is precisely these children who are the most likely to have limited or no private outdoor space in which to play and who need public, community playgrounds the most.

“This postcode lottery in access to outdoor play in Northern Ireland will have significant ramifications for the children there. Evidence for the crucial role that outdoor play has in children’s development and on their mental and physical health is overwhelming.  Children who cannot regularly and frequently play outside are at a severe disadvantage.

“There is an urgent need for investment in play and in children’s welfare. We are urging the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities to deliver ring-fenced funding for play, to enable local authorities to provide every child in the UK with a safe, local and high-quality playground nearby.”

‘Further work is required’

Jacqueline O’Loughlin, Chief Executive of PlayBoard NI, added her concerns, saying that as everyone emerged from the impacts of the pandemic, access to high quality outdoor play space that meets the needs of a variety of ages ‘had never been more important’.

“Councils across Northern Ireland have a key role in ensuring that children and young people have access to play, and over recent years a number of councils, with the support of PlayBoard, have invested significant strategic capital funds aimed at enhancing access to play,” she said.

“Whilst progress has been made, this research undertaken by the API indicates that further work is required, and PlayBoard look forward to working with both the API and colleagues in local government to enhance access to play for all children and young people”.

Author: Simon Weedy

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