Archive | November, 2011

The Play Revolution (part 2)

28 Nov

In this second part of his valedictory lecture to the Play England annual meeting in November 2011,  Adrian Voce reflects on how the strategic use of lottery funding paved the way for a breakthrough with the last government – and on how the adoption of the principle of free public play provision and an intelligent approach to risk management are two of Play England’s most important achievements.

The road to the Play Strategy

The Children’s Play Council (CPC) may have ‘made the case for play’ in 2001 but the promise of lottery funding from Culture Secretary Chris Smith was, for several years, the only material commitment from government. We knew that as well as the vitally needed new funding for provision, a lottery programme for play would need to serve as a catalyst for the crosscutting approach to the full range of playable spaces and a child-friendly public realm that all the research told us was necessary. For children to have the freedom to enjoy outdoor play, we argued for a concerted commitment to change the nature of public space. Policy for planning, traffic and the environment as well as education, childcare and leisure services would each need to consider children’s play needs, and be coordinated at a national as well as local (and regional) level.

The disappointingly small number of Home Zones, an initiative championed by CPC as a way to create genuinely playable streets and neighbourhoods, had taught us that the changes to the built environment we were advocating would take decades to realise on any significant scale, even if the opposite trends could be reversed. Thus, there would also need to be a much bigger commitment to staffed provision based on playwork principles and practice – replicating the environments for play that children were being denied by the ‘shrinking childhood’ phenomenon. Here, the National Childcare Strategy had been undermining the free-play movement by coming to dominate the out-of-school agenda to the degree that many open-access sites were converting to meet registered, fee-paying childcare targets. Registration requirements and Ofsted inspections of ‘wrap-around care’ for children as old as 14 were only accelerating the drift towards children’s free time being colonised by the demands of what was essentially a plank of economic policy (how to enable better access to work for parents).

The lottery funding, then, had to be a way of progressing an alternative policy agenda: for free play provision and for playable public space. When our director, Tim Gill was invited to work with the former Health Secretary (and longstanding chair of Coram’s Fields playground in London), Frank Dobson on a national play review that would make recommendations on how the money should be spent, we saw this as a golden opportunity to instill our own thinking into the policy-making process.

So it was that the report of this review, Getting Serious About Play – after a nationwide consultation with the play sectors and with children – recognised the complexity of the challenges and proposed a strategic approach. This was eventually adopted by BIG’s the Children’s Play Initiative (after some considerable doubts due to the abolition of the old New Opportunities Fund, from which the money had been pledged) in the form of a requirement for local authorities to form play partnerships and area wide play strategies, as set out in Planning for Play.

Free Play

One of our goals for a national play strategy was that it should be founded on the principle that, as a human right, play provision should be an integral part of the public realm wherever children lived or traveled, and that charging for children to attend public playgrounds or play areas should be as unacceptable as installing turnstiles at the entrances to our parks and green spaces. It was vitally important therefore that the BIG programme should adopt this principle.

The argument was not easily won. The Government was keen to explore ways to make provision pay for itself and the government asked CPC to research sustainable business models for play projects. Concluding, as we did, that this could only be achieved with a long-term and mainstream commitment of public funding was not necessarily what ministers wanted to hear. David Lammy, a culture minister who was otherwise sympathetic to the play agenda, famously told an early Play England conference that a government play strategy was ‘not the direction of travel’.

Nevertheless, mainstream public funding was what we recommended. Perry Else of the University of Sheffield had coined the phrase “the three frees” to neatly define some tenets of public play provision: free of charge, offering freedom of choice and where children are free to come and go. Notwithstanding the finer points of applying these principles in practice (for children with particular needs for example), the Three Frees were adopted as a rule-of-thumb and the principle of free play provision was embedded in BIG’s main Children’s Play programme, helping to establish free provision as a cornerstone of the play policy agenda.

‘Bonkers for conkers’

Another big success for the play sector that Play England can take much credit for is the adoption of a more enlightened approach to risk management. Indeed, it was the sector’s common-sense approach to the health and safety issue – and the evidence of play’s role in building children’s resilience – that was as significant as any other single factor in persuading the Brown government to produce a play strategy.

The 2007 Safeguarding Strategy was primarily concerned with child protection and the new wellbeing agenda but, after our unprecedented access to the policy-making process, it included a whole section about the need for children to be allowed to build their own natural resilience through free play and better access to the outdoor world. There was even a full reference to our own Play Safety Forum’s position statement. This was  exciting stuff, made more so when Ed Balls’ media statements about the policy referred more to this aspect than any other (‘bonkers for conkers’ was how the Guardian had me describing it!).

A less slavish adherence to standards allowed designs to offer children a chance to take some risks

It seemed like we were getting somewhere – and, of course, we were. There followed an almost daily dialogue with the civil servants working out of the Cabinet Office on a fresh new Children’s Plan to be launched that December. The rest, as they say, is history.


It’s fair to say that the space for more creativity and innovation in some of the Playbuilder projects was in part due to the influence of the risk-benefit model. Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide – written for Play England by Tim Gill, Bernard Spiegel and David Ball under the auspices of the Play Safety Forum and published by the government as a sister publication to Design for Play – encouraged better standards (with a small s) for play areas, by giving permission for a less slavish adherence to Standards (with a capital S). Endorsed, crucially, by the Health and Safety Executive, the guide put forward a process for following a less risk-averse, more common sense approach. It advocated putting risk-benefit, not just risk assessments in the hands of the provider rather than with Health and Safety ‘experts’.

Play England promoted a risk-benefit approach to the design and management of play provision

Some of the results were what the Times’ journalist described as ‘revolutionary’. Children, he noted, were no longer being ‘wrapped in cotton wool’ but actively encouraged to challenge themselves more within environments where risks were no longer minimized (which defeats the purpose of much play-provision), but intelligently managed; where exciting and adventurous play provision was no longer routinely sacrificed on the altar of rigid (mis) interpretations of health and safety rules.

As well as liberating the creative powers of the sector to respond more imaginatively to children’s own aspirations for their outdoor play, the risk-benefit concept also showed the play movement to be ahead of the curve more generally on the health and safety debate; striking a very resonant chord with policymakers on both sides of the House of Commons.

Adrian Voce

Part 3 will ask how revolutionary the Play Strategy really was and consider the play movement’s place in a wider tide of change.

The Play Revolution (part 1)

24 Nov

In this first of a three-part adaptation of his presentation to the Play England annual meeting on 7 November,  Adrian Voce reflects on Play England’s achievements and the impact of the national play strategy.

Last summer, when The Times wrote about the impact of the Play Strategy, they called it “the Play Revolution”.  Journalistic hype perhaps, but an acknowledgment too that the growth and change in public play provision brought about by the last government’s Playbuilder and Pathfinder programmes, and the Big Lottery Fund’s Children’s Play initiative before them, have made a big impression.

This revolution (if you will humour me for the moment and let me call it that) has been both conceptual – in new approaches to design and risk management for example; and material – in the quality and nature of the new play spaces that have emerged as a result. Even more significantly in the longer term, the fact that children’s play became a serious public policy issue has allowed ideas and understandings about play and its importance to enter a wider, more mainstream discourse.

Since this revolution got under way, of course, the world has changed. The financial crisis, the change of government and its consequent austerity measures so altered the political and economic context that the Comprehensive Spending Review (October 2010) in one short sentence, brought an abrupt end to the Play Strategy, and indeed to any chance there may have been of a coalition government play policy to replace it:

“Overall resource savings in the Department for Education (DfE)’s non-schools budget of 12 per cent in real terms by 2014-15, contributing to overall DfE savings of 3 per cent in real terms … will be achieved by … rationalising and ending centrally directed programmes for children, young people and families”. (HM Treasury, Spending Review, p41)

This disproportionate contribution to the Treasury’s deficit reduction targets from DfE’s non-schools budget spelt the end of all government investment in play. Indeed, having been transferred to DfE from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in light of the Play Strategy, even the original play contracts that dated back to the Thatcher government were terminated.

Play England was in the vanguard of the changes and growth that the play sector has seen and it is right that we celebrate them and take our share of the credit for what has been a period of unprecedented achievement in England. But we were also there when play’s seat at the top table was removed, and we must take our share of responsibility for that too, if we are to learn from it.

So, what did “the play revolution” achieve – and is it really over?


Most tangibly, of course, we have seen around £350m of new central funding, specifically for free play provision. Compared to what went before, when the play sector was perennially forced to nibble away at other agendas to show its relevance to funding streams, this was a spectacular change of fortunes.

The government investment of around £200m (after cuts and the removal of the ring-fence in the final year) has built some 3000 new play areas and 30 staffed adventure playgrounds. Following on from the thousands of projects funded through the £150m Children’s Play initiative, this represented the greatest investment in public play provision over such a short period that the country has ever seen.

But building capacity was only half the story. The new provision has been underpinned by a set of principles that aimed to break what had become a rather soulless stereotype of public play space and capture the best of the adventure playground and landscaping traditions.

There can be little argument that, before its premature curtailment, the Play Strategy raised the bar for the quality of public play areas. The Times reported that, far from the bog standard, ‘more-bang-for your-buck’ KFC* playgrounds that one might have expected from a multi-million pound government programme, we were, in many places, seeing something quite different. A wealth of new play spaces have been built that speak to the richness and vibrancy of children’s play, and also allow for its ambiguity and spontaneity rather than simply directing the user to narrowly prescribed activities.

Blurring Boundaries

Playbuilder site forming part of an undulating landscape and blurring the boundaries with the wider spac

Many of the new play areas have natural, undulating surfaces interspersed with planted areas so that the landscape itself affords adventure and playfulness where the previous norm was too often to view playgrounds as functional repositories for equipment. There is not only a greater use of horticulture and topography as part of natural “playscapes”, but also an invitation by design for children to play freely within a wider domain of parkland or green space.

The absence of fences has blurred boundaries with the wider space, literally removing the barriers between children the wider community. Children are now being encouraged to play throughout the whole landscape, not just in the playground – which had previously been regarded all too often as somewhere to distract them and keep them away from the floral displays and immaculately pruned shrubs that the rest of ‘us’ want to enjoy.

It wasn’t just the boundaries and the landscaping of play areas that were changing. Design for Play, the guidance produced by Play England and published by the Government for the Playbuilder programme, proposed a much more bespoke approach than had been the custom in many areas. It encouraged the use of community artists and children’s participation projects as well as landscapers and designers to create places that closely reflected the local play culture and children’s own imaginations.

Artistic designs embody imaginative play play

Much of the play equipment, if you could call it that, was different too. There was more wood, definitely. And boulders. Lots of boulders! And stuff that didn’t look like it was obviously for playing on at all -unless you have a more sophisticated understanding of play – which, of course, children do.

Planning for Play

The growth and improvements of the Playbuilder and Pathfinder programmes followed immediately after a period, 2006-8, that saw the most widespread, intensive and thorough planning for children’s play provision that England – or probably any other country – has ever seen, with every top and second tier council, bar one, producing an area-wide play strategy based on our Planning for Play guidance.

This document, based on one produced by London Play for the Mayor a year earlier, once and for all established play, in principle anyway, as a crosscutting theme for a range of local and, in the case of London, regional public responsibilities: from planning and traffic to parks and recreation, as well as the newly integrated children’s services. Under this guidance, play partnerships were formed up and down the country to coordinate the planning process and provide a focus for play within local authority decision-making cycles. This model was adopted by the Government’s own guidance, Embdedding the Play Strategy*** which positioned play partnerships within the new world of joint planning and commissioning under the Every Child Matters reforms.

Making the Case

A government play strategy – not merely lottery funding – had been a longstanding policy objective for the free play movement in England and was the main recommendation of the Children’s Play Council (CPC)’s Making the Case for Play in 2001. This report, funded by a new government contract for CPC, had established that the absence of a clear statutory duty, together with the perennial undervaluing of play services had led to a patchwork, piecemeal approach to local provision and a general lack of investment over many years.

In addition, the complex and growing barriers to children playing outside were increasing. From parental anxiety and a growing cultural ambivalence to children in public, to the very real dangers of more traffic, a host of factors were conspiring to create a generation of what were coming to be known as ‘battery-reared children’**.

Although the death of the free-range childhood was an over-simplification – arguably an exaggeration – of the reality, it did capture a widespread concern that children were too commonly being denied the opportunities to play that previous generations had taken for granted. The moral panic about this was certainly an important catalyst for the change that happened as our advocacy for a serious policy response to our Charter for Children’s Play began to gain traction.

Part 2 of The Play Revolution will look at the principle of free play within the recent policy framework and discuss how the play sector’s approach to captured the imagination of ministers.

Adrian Voce

* KFC: Kit, Fence and Carpet: derogatory shorthand for the unimaginative, equipment-centric, risk-averse stereotype of much public play provision.

**  ‘Battery-reared children’ is a phrase coined, I believe, by my predecessor at CPC, Tim Gill at his own valedictory address in 2004.

*** This guidance has since been removed from all government websites but may still be downloaded from some subscription sites.

East London Calling

21 Nov

The East London Play conference, organized by the play associations of Tower Hamlets and Hackney, was an inspiring mixture of the old and the new – with some pertinent messages for play policy. Adrian Voce was there.

The more regular occupants of Amnesty International’s UK Centre for Human Rights may not often think about children’s play, but once a year in recent times it has hosted an event that highlights the fact that oppression can take many forms. The majority of delegates to the seventh East London Play Conference, held there on Friday, were in no doubt that the current government’s lack of a play policy in the face of ever-increasing pressures on children’s time and space, constitutes a dereliction of one of its key responsibilities under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Retrospective Theme

There was something of a retrospective theme to this year’s event, or at least a sober reflection that whatever progress there may have been in the last few years, far too many children are still denied real opportunities to play. But there was also a clear-eyed conviction that this movement is strong and getting stronger, whatever the prevailing winds of economic austerity and political disregard.

Bob Hughes

Keynote speaker Bob Hughes kicked off the proceedings by asking the fundamental questions: what is play, what is playwork and does it work? In particular Bob wants the field to honestly challenge itself to consider whether good practice can replicate for children the “wild” spaces and opportunities of natural environments, which research suggests are vital to the full play experience and therefore to individual children’s fulfillment and the successful evolution of our species.

Bob Hughes: the right environment is the key for wild play.

Retrospection here came in the form of the younger, decidedly more hirsute Hughes speaking silently in a video film from the 70s, as the more gnarled present-day version made his case in person. The contrast was striking. His earlier air of almost zealous enthusiasm and conviction has been replaced by a quieter, more sober presence. Bob told us that his message hasn’t changed and, for all that his wit and sparkle are never far away, it was hard to avoid the impression – just occasionally – of disappointment, sadness even, that we are still so far from embedding the playwork ethos within mainstream approaches to designing services and spaces for children. “This is a vocation” he implored us, “you can’t compromise on these things just to pay the mortgage”.  The message wasn’t lost to an audience comprising many who face redundancy or redeployment to non-playwork roles.

On the upside, Bob concluded that playworkers can indeed give children the wild play experiences they need if we get the environments right.

His model for translating what the research tells us into principles of good practice is his most comprehensive and elegant yet. The challenge for the rest of us is to promote them to policymakers, embed them within training and professional development – not just across children’s services, but within planning, landscaping and architectural disciplines too – and to realise them on the ground.

Playing Out

Elsewhere, the conference heard from the inspiring Playing Out campaign, in which some parents in Bristol, led by the modest Alice Ferguson, and the power of the internet seem to have kick-started a new grass-roots movement to simply close residential streets to traffic on a regular basis in order to bring children outside to play with their neighbours. The effects, demonstrated in a lovely film of the children’s own experience, are as magical as you might expect. “My street is beautiful” said one little girl. It hadn’t changed; except that she was now able to transform it into whatever her imagination wanted it to be.

PATH (Play Association, Tower Hamlets)’s current big focus is on play in estates. The ‘then and now’ came from Penny Wilson speaking movingly of PATH’s work on the Boundary Estate, which was built at the turn of the century as the world’s first council housing settlement. The problems of poverty and space would seem to be still there and the project is bringing playwork to children’s immediate environments in order to, almost literally, liberate them from the battery-reared lives that bad planning and urban decay have consigned them to. Play champions from communities here and all over the borough are being enrolled to ensure this liberation is not over-dependent on playworkers, who are of course thin on the ground – and not likely to get thicker any time soon.

There are both contrasts and convergences between the Playing Out project’s transformation of Victorian terraced suburban streets in Bristol, and PATH’s work at the sharp end of social housing in the East End. Alice and her friends have responded to something in their middle class children’s lives that was evident to Bob Hughes and the other original playworkers in the deprived neighbourhoods of our towns and cities. Playing Out is a positive local response to the fact that play deprivation is no longer a threat just to poorer children, but a blight on modern childhood in general.

Despite the gloom of budget cuts affecting job security, Hackney Play Association’s Nicola Butler and a beaming Bridget Handscombe – happily returned to the voluntary sector after a few years with local authorities – spoke optimistically of their training programme for level three playworkers and HPA’s mission to bring play pods into the the school the borough’s schools.

How the German’s do it

A film from Germany showcased the thriving adventure playground and city farm movement there. Of all the European countries, according to social pedagogue, Melanie Kinghan, Germany alone would seem to have resisted the steady decline in numbers of adventure playgrounds since the 70s peak. Discussion raised the question of whether this may be partly because of the higher status of her profession compared with that of playwork in the UK. Whilst envying this, there were some in the audience who saw the green and red card reward and punishment system described there as being “very un-playwork”. “Are pedagogues really like playworkers, or just teachers in boots and overalls”, was the sentiment. For many of us, though, doubts were calmed when the film moved to a wonderful scene of children taking baths outside in mid-winter; their water heated from open fires lit under the baths themselves. The water gets too hot? Time to jump out and enjoy a glorious, naked snowball fight! Ofsted wouldn’t know where to start…


The buzzword of the day was upcycling. Reusing unwanted items by converting them into something better is a practice more necessary than ever in the present climate, but one that has always been close to the heart of the resourceful playworker. An afternoon workshop in the ancient art of blacksmithing was a reminder of how adventure playgrounds, though based on children’s vital freedom to play randomly and wildly, also offer kids the tools and the opportunities to shape and fashion their own environment. This can involve learning skills that require great concentration and discipline. An understanding of what we really mean by play makes sense of the seeming paradox as children and staff together demonstrate, in Brian Sutton-Smith’s words that “play isn’t the opposite of work, it’s the opposite of depression”.

Blacksmiths on adventure playgrounds? The play sector must forge new tools from the fires of austerity.

The blacksmith’s forge at Spitalfields City Farm in the heart of the East End of London – where Joseph Rowntree first decried the terrible cost to city children of the ravages of the industrial age – also offered a potent metaphor for the new age of austerity we are in. The play movement has a strong lineage with the social reformers and community activists of previous eras but must now forge tools from a very modern kind of fire, and create vehicles fit to navigate a rocky new terrain without losing sight of the imperative to make space for children to play, free and wild. For all the progress since Rowntree’s time, the world, not just the East End, has never been more in need of it.

Adrian Voce

If ‘play’s the thing’ we must start with a radical rethink of child policy

17 Nov

Adrian Voce suggests that the new ‘Play Ethic’ should get first things first and challenge the government’s wellbeing agenda to start with children’s play.

There is an interesting two-day conference in London next week, which seems to be aimed at taking on and progressing the wellbeing agenda from the perspective of a new ‘play ethic’ – to inform and progress a new way of working that fosters creativity and innovation and perhaps, therefore, leads to a new and more sustainable economics. It is called Play’s the Thing. But don’t get too excited – children’s play doesn’t seem to feature.

One of the organisers, Pat Kane (the Play Ethic) wrote about the conference themes in the Guardian this week and  asserts the importance of fostering cooperation, innovation and creativity, not as touchy-feely ideals, but necessary components of more sustainable, people-centred business and economic models.  But Although Kane is right to reject the knee-jerk dismissal of the wellbeing agenda, and for all his welcome exposition of a play ethic, he and the other conference organisers appear to be missing one obvious and primary point.

This government has quietly torn up a ten-year plan to create more space for play in the lives of our citizens who need it most: children. Kane makes no reference to the abandoned Play Strategy, nor indeed to children’s play at all. Neither do there appear to be any  contributors to the conference from the fields of playwork, play therapy or children’s geographies.

This looks like an opportunity lost. Without a rebalancing of priorities in child policy, which is now dominated more than ever by narrowly defined notions of old school education and how it is delivered, the play ethic risks remaining a talking point, or at best a more enjoyable way to work for a cultural and intellectual elite. The true value of play for our culture and our society will only begin to be realised with the reinstatement of opportunities to play at the centre of all children’s lives, including the way they are educated and cared for.

The Play Strategy began to do this, and so a robust dialogue with this Government’s wellbeing agenda should start with the simple question: what, David Cameron, is your government doing about the steady erosion of children’s freedom to play?

Adrian Voce

Did we get too close, not to Labour, but to the Coalition?

15 Nov

Adrian Voce responds to Jan Cosgrove’s comment on the Policy in Play media statement of 8 November.

Jan Cosgrove’s very thorough comment – and Fair Play’s dogged research that informs it – deserves, I think, a full reply from me in turn and so here goes.

I think we have to be careful not to take the current government policy (or lack of it, as far as play is concerned) personally, as it were. My view is that we have fallen victim to a general trend towards decentralization, coupled, of course, with the overriding imperative, as the government sees it, to reduce public spending at a rate never seen before. The early deficit reduction measures announced in June last year included many other cuts. However, it is also true that, in their media briefings at the time, ministerial aides did single out the play strategy for particular scorn as an example of New Labour’s (and Ed Balls’ in particular) ‘nanny-state’ excesses (it’s funny, isn’t it, how the political party whose members would have most enjoyed the benefits of having a nanny now use the role as a metaphor for a negatively over-weaning approach to government, but I digress…)

The Conservatives are confused about play. Their policy review in 2008, More Ball Games – to which both Tim Gill and Play England were advisors – majored on it and Cameron himself has cited Play England surveys to bemoan the lack of ‘everyday adventures’ for today’s children. But the report was noticeably short on policy substance, other than a proposed revision of Health and Safety legislation (addressed since the election by the Young Review). Even at the time Cameron was clear that he did not see much of a role for central government. Cameron’s big idea, let’s not forget, was launched with the slogan “Small Government: Big Society”.

This brings me to an observation on the response Jan Cosgrove received to his Freedom of Information request. It is not strictly accurate to say that Play England’s “two contracts were renegotiated into a single, merged contract with a reduced budget to reflect the reduced monitoring role of the organisation”.

Firstly, the contracts weren’t renegotiated, they were terminated (with no adherence, I might add, to the Voluntary Sector Compact that is supposed to guide government agencies in such circumstances). We then negotiated a new one at a much-reduced level. This is perhaps to split hairs, but the more pertinent point is that the new contract was not merely for a reduced version of our role under the Labour government. It was an entirely new contract with a new set of aims and outputs: essentially to support a small number of areas to adjust to the new era and develop ‘Big Society’ forms of sustaining provision so that these could be disseminated and learned from. (This was all done through the Engaging Communities in Play programme, which had its own website of resources for “Playful Communities” and was written up by Paul Greatorex in the report, Creating Playful Communities)

This is an important point for two reasons.

Firstly, Play England has been accused, not least by the Big Lottery Fund, who backed away from their earlier promise of ‘a green light’ for further funding for play once there was a change of government (ironic, given the Coalition’s pledge to make it completely independent of government…), of not being nimble enough to respond to the new policy agenda and thereby secure a role with the new government beyond 2011. The Engaging Communities in Play work shows this to be untrue. Play England was to my knowledge the first, and still one of the very few third sector organisations to have jointly published a policy document – certainly one about a non-school issue – with Michael Gove’s ‘back to basics’ Department for Education.

Following on from our influencing activity with the Tories over a number of years (I spoke at their main party conference in 2007, we had substantial input to More Ball Games, and Tim Loughton spoke very promisingly at the launch of People Make Play in March 2010) I think the way that we reframed our support and development role under this new contract gives the lie to the view that Play England was too close to Labour and paid the price.

However, the second, more important point about Play England’s work for the Coalition Government from July 2010 to March 2011 is that it raises the difficult question of how close we should get to government in general; and on what terms.

Certainly, with the benefit of hindsight, knowing now that the Engaging Communities in Play contract led not to an ongoing, albeit smaller and differently focused version of the play strategy, as we had hoped, but to a sudden halt to more than 30 years of national play policy, we may have thought twice before signing.

The aim of working with government is of course to influence its policy or, having successfully done so, to help deliver policy objectives. Now that this has evidently been in vain with the Coalition, at least in the short term, there is an uncomfortable feeling. Did we collude in what was actually the most damaging period of national government for children’s play in decades? Should we have demanded policy commitments before entering into this new partnership?

These are not easy questions to answer. Hindsight is a fine thing and others will have more objective views on all this than I. But as Play England repositions itself – as it surely must – to lead the long march to an unforeseeable policy summit once again, it as a question that we – and Play England in particular – must be willing to honestly consider.

Adrian Voce

15 November 2011

PS Jan’s sympathy for me personally, whilst appreciated, is really unnecessary. I was fortunate enough to occupy the crease while the sun was shining, the sky was blue and there was hay to be made. Whatever else I do in my career, I have the memory of hitting some glorious sixes and the knowledge that these untutored slogs, nevertheless made a difference.

Outgoing Play England director accuses coalition of “betraying a generation of children”.

8 Nov

Media Release, 8 November 2011

The outgoing director of Play England, Adrian Voce OBE, yesterday accused the coalition government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg of betraying a generation of children for abandoning a ten-year strategy to make neighbourhoods, streets and green spaces safer and more suited for children’s healthy outdoor play. He warned that there would be long-term consequences for children’s health and wellbeing.

Speaking after Play England’s annual meeting at a special event to mark his stepping down from the organisation that he established in 2006 under the umbrella of children’s charity NCB, Voce said “the UK government has an obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that children’s right to play is respected and promoted. Yet this government’s policy on children’s play is that it has none.

“In spite of the Deputy Prime Minister’s promise of a task force to investigate new ways to support community play provision, and the statement before the election of the now Children’s Minister Tim Loughton, that ‘it would be a false economy to cut children’s play services’, every penny of government funding for play provision and play policy has been cut.

Voce was damning in his verdict on the coalition’s lack of response to the issue of children’s declining freedom to play out:

“This puts the UK government in breach of an important international treaty, but worse than that, the government is letting down a generation of children, their families and communities who were promised a ten-year plan to reverse the deeply damaging decline in children’s enjoyment of the outdoor world.

“The irony is that much could be done without much government expenditure. The Playbuilder capital programme (which saw 3000 new play areas from 2008-11) would have been completed this year anyway and the aims for the next phase of the Play Strategy were not to spend more money on playgrounds but to change the culture in planning, traffic, parks and policing so that the built environment and open spaces took greater account of children’s need to play and parents’ need to be confident to let them. The Conservatives’ childhood review in 2008 called for exactly such a change but it will not happen without a government lead. As a result, we must expect the trend towards ever-more sedentary indoor lifestyles for children to continue. The government will argue that the austerity measures to bring down the deficit mean sacrifices have to be made but a 100 per cent cut and the shredding of all national policy on play is not just an austerity measure, it is a betrayal, and one which future generations will pay for in the rising cost of obesity, mental health problems and anti-social behaviour”.

Voce congratulated Play England’s members for adopting his longstanding recommendation that it should become an independent charity. “There is huge pressure on charities at this time and going it alone will not be easy, but England’s children need an independent national champion for their right to play,” he said.

Voce, who was this year awarded an OBE for his services to children, announced at the event, in Islington, North London, the launch of his own new campaign to make the case for government action on play which he is taking on to the European stage as a member of the core group of the European Network of Child Friendly Cities

Welcome to Policy for Play!

7 Nov

It’s a fairly dry old name for a site about children’s play isn’t it? What has play got to do with policy anyway? What business do policy makers have interfering with something as natural as children playing? Aren’t they bound to just make something beautiful and simple, complicated and boring?

Well, yes, if we let them anywhere near children’s playgrounds or other play spaces they probably would (unless they forgot their jobs for a while and joined in – then they might just remember how much fun it is to just play).

The point is that children’s play space is under threat. Increases in traffic volume, real and perceived levels of crime, badly designed housing, fear of bullying and violence and cuts in park and play service staff, have all conspired to make public space, in many areas, a no-go area for children, which means more and more of them are living unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles – stuck at home in front of the TV or computer screen – when they badly want and need to be out playing with their friends.

Policy for Play is a site for anyone interested in changing this. We aim to debate, argue, present the evidence, make the case and generally make a noise for children’s right to play to be properly addressed by public policy. Because if children aren’t playing in public – where are they playing?

It is the responsibilty of all governments, under an international treaty – the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 – to ensure children’s right to play is respected and promoted. It is our responsibility – as professionals or simply as adult citizens and voters – to hold our governments to account for this: to insist on it, because children are generally not in a position to insist on it for themselves.

If you want to hold your government – or governments – to account for children’s right to play, please sign up and we will let you know whenever their is anything new on here to read or link to.

There will be a media release, later this afternoon, summarising the main points of a talk that I am giving after Play England’s annual members meeting and I will follow this up with a full blog of the talk itself.

Thanks for visiting and, as they say …

watch this space!



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