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Planning for Play – how governments should respond to the General Comment on Article 31 of the UNCRC

4 Sep
From 29 September – 1 October, the Danish city of Odense will host the 7th biennial Child in the City conference. To promote the event, the organisers have been interviewing some of the speakers about what they will be presenting. This is a copy of mine.


Adrian, please tell us what your presentation is about?

Planning for Play was the title of two different and distinct publications from two very different eras. The first, from 1968, was by Lady Allen of Hurtwood, an immensely important figure in the British play movement of the 50s and 60s who, probably more than any other single person, defined adventure playgrounds and how to create, not just the physical but also the cultural space necessary for their creation. I used to work for an organisation that she founded, and this work was a big influence on me.

The second, from 2006, which I helped to produce, was a joint publication by the Children’s Play Council, when I was its director, and the Big Lottery Fund, a large national distributor of charitable grants set up by the British government.  This Planning for Play aimed to place the responsibility for creating the right environments for children’s play with local authorities. It set out a recommended process for developing an area-wide play strategy so that adventure playgrounds and other play environments could be prioritised according to need; and built and maintained as part of a long-term plan that also included improvements to the wider public realm; for children’s mobility, access and safety, for example.

This presentation will consider where responsibility for making space for children’s play lies in 2014.

And where does it lie?

I think the General Comment on Article 31 of the UNCRC in 2013 spells out very clearly that all tiers of government have this responsibility. National governments must take the lead and establish the right policy frameworks, including legislation where necessary, for resources to be made available locally; and that these resources – which should include but not be restricted to financial resources – should be allocated strategically and with a full appreciation of the play needs of child populations.

Isn’t this a bit idealistic? Are national governments really going to take play that seriously? 

Well, in the UK, governments, including national governments, have indeed been taking play this seriously, albeit not consistently so. My presentation will consider the way that the London Mayor, who has overall planning responsibility for the capital, in 2005-6 established a planning framework specifically for children’s play. I will also look at how the UK government produced a 12-year play strategy for England – what it contained, what it achieved, and why it was abandoned after only two years – and at the legal duty on local authorities to make provision for play, enacted by the Welsh government (covered in more detail by Ben Tawil, earlier in the same session).

Isn’t the failure of the Play Strategy for England just more evidence that children’s right to play will never be taken seriously by governments for long enough to make a difference? 

I don’t think so, no. It didn’t fail. It was scrapped by a new government with different priorities, the first of which was to cut back public expenditure on a scale not seen before. I think the Play Strategy would have had cross-party support but was the victim of very bad timing, having been launched in 2007-8, just precisely when the scale and the implications of the financial crisis were becoming clear.

The Play Strategy achieved most of what it was intended to achieve in those two years – investing more than £200m in new provision – but its real ambition was in the long-term embedding of play within local funding and decision-making cycles for the policy areas that impact most on children’s freedom: traffic, planning, policing, housing, parks and leisure. It also aimed to elevate understandings about play within education and childcare services and, over time, could have been expected to greatly increase children’s opportunities for free play within all settings.

I will argue that the collective UK experience – the London play policy, the national lottery programme, the English Play Strategy, the Welsh play sufficiency duty, and developments in Scotland and Northern Ireland too – with the benefit of some reflection and analysis, represents a model for how countries everywhere, certainly in the West, can adopt Article 31 as policy and truly recognize, protect and provide for children’s right to play.

Adrian Voce

More ‘speed interviews’  from Child in the City 2014 can be read here.


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