Playing Out

02 April 2014

The sounds of children hopscotching, skipping and scooting have replaced the noise of cars in streets in Bristol where the Playing Out project has supported local residents to regularly close their streets temporarily to traffic and open them up for children to play out freely.

A £10,000 grant from People’s Health Trust, using money raised by HealthTogether through The Health Lottery, in 2013 allowed Playing Out to work in Easton and Ashley – inner city areas of Bristol – to support residents in six new playing out streets giving more than 200 children a chance to regularly play out safely.

Playing Out gives children a chance to be physically active, make friends and build up the skills they need to get around their neighbourhoods safely and independently when they are old enough. It is also a way for adult neighbours to get to know each other and build a stronger sense of community. In previous generations, playing out on the pavement and in the street was an everyday and accepted part of childhood but the dangers from traffic and a lack of confidence amongst parents to let their children play out mean it is no longer the norm.

Bristol City Council was the first local authority to launch a policy allowing residents to apply for regular street closures for play up to once a week for three hours each time.  Nearly 50 streets now play out across the city and nearly 30 other local authorities up and down the country including Hackney, Reading, Brighton and Leeds have followed Bristol’s example and put in place their own policies to encourage residents to organise street play in their neighbourhoods.

During playing out sessions neighbours use ‘road closed’ signs to clearly indicate to drivers that the road is closed to traffic during the playing out session.  Residents also volunteer as stewards and take it in turns to divert traffic and ensure children stay within the closure area. Parents are still responsible for their children but are able to let them play freely and decide their own games and activities.

Lots of the games children play are lively and energetic – scooting, go-karting, skipping and racing – but having the street and pavement space to play in also gives children the chance to do imaginative activities like creative drawings with chalks. 

Pete Goddard was the Playing Out project worker who gave support to residents in Easton and Ashley and observed the strengthening of relationships amongst children and adults as a result of the playing out sessions.

“Children are often keen to play out at other times on the pavements outside their houses and the culture of calling for each other and playing at each others’ houses can develop. And some older people want to get involved and participate.  I know of one particularly reclusive elderly lady who is having more contact and conversations with neighbours because of playing out happening on her street.”

The streets that played out as a result of People’s Health Trust funding are set to continue throughout the year ahead and have spread the word to other local streets too.

To find out more about Playing Out and the benefits of street play for children and communities visit http://playingout.net/

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