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UK ‘play street’ organisers shine a light on their success

A new survey by Playing Out, the UK’s leading campaigner for children’s freedom to play outside, has again highlighted the benefits of ‘play streets’ for both children and the wider community.

Play streets are a fast-growing concept that are, essentially, road closures organised by neighbourhoods in order to create a safe space for children to play outside.

Since starting on a single street in Bristol in 2009, the idea has now spread to over 1,500 street communities nationwide. Produced every two years, the Playing Out Resident Survey canvassed the views of play street organisers and local residents across the UK.

The latest survey was carried out in October 2023, receiving 116 responses from play street organisers across the UK. They provided vital feedback which will ultimately help Playing Out ‘better understand the impact of play streets, where they happen and who is involved’.

‘Children should be allowed to be children’

Crucially, this new survey also looks at at how organisational and logistical barriers to play streets can be overcome, and how the organisation can work with residents and stakeholders to achieve these goals. Responses spanned the length and breadth of the UK, including the cities of Newcastle, Cardiff, Leeds and London, as well as wider regions such as Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire, Greater Manchester and North Tyneside.

Key findings that shine a light on the positive impact of play streets included:

  • 91 per cent of residents said that play street sessions have positively impacted their children’s or the children on their street’s social confidence
  • 80 per cent of residents said that play streets positively impacted their children’s or the children on their street’s mental health
  • 72 per cent of residents felt that children are more physically active as a result of taking part in play streets
  • 78 per cent of residents said that play streets positively impacted their children’s or the children on their street’s physical health

In the survey, Playing Out highlights a number of local examples that have been warmly received, including a scheme set up by Bristol resident Samira Musse. She was inspired to set up a play street community after seeing a post on Twitter, and also because it ties in with her other community-focused work, including setting up an activities club. Her neighbourhood encompasses a large Somali community, many of whom – like Samira – live in tower blocks, far from the life they knew before coming to the UK to escape civil war.

Image courtesy of Playing Out

“Can you imagine?,” she says. “High up, crammed into small spaces, indoors all the time, not knowing anyone. As there is nowhere to come together, people can’t meet. And many don’t have the money or confidence to try new things or go to new places in the city.

“All this is so hard on children. They are on screens a lot of the time. They don’t move around enough. There are many behaviour problems and anxieties. And also poor health. Children should be allowed to be children. To be free and to have fun!’

‘Everyone was positive’

So she wrote to as many people as possible outlining her ideas, and also put it on the Whatsapp group for both her and other blocks. “No-one had a problem with it and everyone was positive,” she says.

In terms of what it means to the community, Samira has no doubts – “I see how different people have access to different things. People with less money, in tower blocks, have less access to green spaces and to spaces where children can play. We need to make it much, much more fair for everyone. We don’t need more consultations about this – we and children have been asked so much – we need it to actually change.

Posting on X, Playing Out said: ‘We’re proud to start 2024 by sharing our latest Resident Survey Report, showing the growth of the UK #PlayStreets movement and the importance of enabling children to #PlayOut, for their physical and mental health, social confidence and sense of belonging.”

Author: Simon Weedy

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