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Bring back play

21 Jun

by Maisie Rowe

In this guest blog, originally published in this summer’s edition of the Landscape Journal, Maisie Rowe explains how a recent exhibition highlights how much our attitudes to play have changed – and largely not for the better.

Hardly any other modern concept had a more far-reaching and enduring influence than the Skrammellegeplads’, says Gabriela Burkhalter. She is talking about the ‘junk playgrounds’, which were conceived in Denmark by the landscape architect Theodor Sorensen in the 1940s.

Burkhalter is curator of an excellent recent exhibition, The Playground Project, held at the Kunsthalle, Zurich, which reviews a hundred years of playground design through pictures, books and full-size play installations. Her exhibition contained much to inspire the landscape architect, not least by reminding us what design looked like when it was rooted in theories of human development and the belief that play is a right of the child.

The Playground Project in Zurich. Photo: Annik Wetter

The Playground Project in Zurich. Photo: Annik Wetter

Freidrich Froebel, inventor of the kindergarten, wrote: ‘Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.’ Froebel, Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori were just some of the key figures in a discourse that, by recognising childhood as central to human experience, would put children at the heart of the twentieth-century social project. The design of playgrounds took on artistic and social importance: ‘If childhood is a journey, let us see to it the child does not travel by night’, said Aldo van Eyck, who designed around 730 play- grounds for the city of Amsterdam.

‘the twentieth century was not kind to children’

But despite being described as ‘The Century of the Child’, the twentieth century was not kind to children. Conflict and upheaval devastated childhoods and, while the enlightened pedagogues sought to nurture the innate creativity and spirit of each child, cities blindly privileged the motorcar over the child and sacrificed open space to bricks and concrete.

So playground design was always going to be contentious. From early on, it was beset by a tension between mass delivery of practical municipal play facilities and provision that emphasised deep play and contact with nature. Some of the earliest playgrounds were severe, gymnasium- like spaces provided by reformers and philanthropists to engage slum urchins in purposeful activity, once they were liberated by reform from factory labour. By contrast, the progressive designer C. Th. Sørensen spent time watching how children, left to their own devices, played on waste ground, building dens and damming streams.

‘Sørensen said: ‘They (the children) can dream and imagine and make dreams and imagination reality’

Sørensen’s collaborator was Hans Dragehjelm, ‘the father of the sand-box’. They drew inspiration from the German idea of sand play; in Berlin, in the 1850s, huge piles of sand, called sand bergs, had been provided for children to play with. Dragehjelm set up Copenhagen’s first sand playground but Sørensen took the idea further, says Burkhalter: ‘Sørensen made even more room for the creative moment: the children were given materials and tools to build their own worlds.’ Of his ‘junk playground’, established at Emdrup in Copenhagen in 1943, Sørensen said: ‘They (the children) can dream and imagine and make dreams and imagination reality… It is so obvious that the children thrive here and feel well, they unfold and they live.’

An English landscape architect, Lady Allen of Hurtwood, chanced on Sørensen’s project while on a British Council lecture tour through occupied Europe. Lady Allen came from the class of eccentric, posh-but-penniless bohemians. Enamoured of nature, she spotted that these gloriously chaotic environments – with their dens, ropes, bonfires, gardens and animals – offered urban children freedom, self-expression and an outdoor life.

She wrote: ‘In a flash of understanding I realised that I was looking at something quite new and full of possibilities… There was a wealth of waste material… and no man-made fixtures. The children could dig, build houses, experiment with sand, water or fire, and play games of adventure and make-believe.’ Adopting a rallying-cry of ‘Better a broken arm than a broken spirit!’ she reinvented Sørensen’s Skrammellegeplads as ‘adventure playgrounds’.

‘playwork practice evolved into a highly-skilled (but under-valued) profession’

Continental adventure playgrounds are relatively orderly affairs. Small groups of children work assigned plots of land; at Kolle 37 playground in Berlin, children to this day are given 20 nails per session to work with, which they use, re-use or barter. Britain’s adventure playgrounds developed a more anarchic and squalid character – photographs of Clydesdale Road Adventure Playground in the 1950s show children revelling in daubed paint and old sofas – while our playwork practice evolved into a highly-skilled (but under-valued) profession. Sørensen was aware of this contradiction: ‘Of all the things I have helped to realise, the Junk Playground is the ugliest; yet for me it is the best and most beautiful of my works’. It is curious that this most significant of contributions to landscape architecture should be a sort of anti-design; produced by child-builders with the minimum of involvement by the professionalised adult designer, without aesthetic consideration.

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An adventure playground in 1966. Photo: William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images

While it is difficult to escape the sense that playground design today has become formulaic, the Playground Project exhibition reminds us that it need be anything but that by describing a wealth of innovative sculptural forms, derived from an array of design practices. The play sculptures of Josef Schagerl and Egon Møller-Nielsen ‘combined the autonomy-based language of modern sculpture with the goals of play and functionality’, according to Burkhalter. Their underlying anti-elitism aimed to encourage public acceptance of abstract art.

In America, Joseph Brown, who was a boxer, sculptor and teacher of architecture, experimented with kinetic works like Jiggle Rail and Swing Ring, while Paul Friedberg and Richard Dattner made the playground itself into an abstract sculptural composition. Their landforms invited children to hide, clamber and interact, but designed out parental hovering. In Italy and France, the radical spirit of ’68 informed the experimental practices of Riccardo Dalisi, Palle Nielsen and Group Ludic, whose spaces were tools of political engagement and subversion. And the architect Aldo van Eyck earned himself a special place in playground design heaven by inserting more than 700 playgrounds into the fabric of the city of Amsterdam between 1947 and 1978, combining playground design with a form of place-making.

And so to the present day, where we face growing evidence that children are spending less and less time playing outdoors. The phenomenon is variously ascribed to parental fears, stranger danger, perilous roads, over-structured leisure time and electronic games; the costs are commonly named as childhood obesity, poor mental health, disconnection from nature and the breakdown of community.

While the true nature and effects of this crisis – if indeed such a crisis exists – are up for debate, negativity surrounding the question of children’s play is leading to a reconsideration of what constitutes a playground.

‘(a)…proliferation of adult-controlled monetised play experiences’.

One expression of this is the proliferation of adult-controlled monetised play experiences. At Westfield, London, Kidzania brings children indoors to try out an array of professions, at a cost of £29.50 per child. The experience is claimed to ‘teach kids essential life skills including financial literacy, team work and independence.’ With 28 UK sites, Go Ape, (£18 per child), enables harnessed visitors to navigate a fixed circuit of high ropes, zip-wires and walkways, suspended from trees. These are terrifically fun days out, but what they offer is not true play, defined in the British playwork tradition as ‘freely chosen, self-directed and intrinsically motivated’. At Go Ape, the activity is neither freely chosen nor self-directed. You cannot choose the sequence in which you use the equipment, nor are you free to go back and do something again (and again). At Kidzania, which conceives childhood merely as preparation for adulthood and rewards the acquisition of specific skills, the activity is not intrinsically motivated.

How do you provide the maximum of space for imaginative play in a constricted space? Architect Asif Khan has tackled this problem at Chisenhale Primary School in east London (his children’s school) by designing an elevated structure which effectively creates more space. Access via a rope or a rope trellis, the space not only offers access to exciting slides, but areas designed for quiet and contem-plation. The structure is clad in heat-treated tulipwood, an abundant American hardwood that combines the sensuality of timber with a smooth surface devoid of splinters and great durability.

Of greater interest to the landscape architect is the fact that practitioners from the fields of playwork and design are questioning the logical basis of the playground itself. Adrian Voce is author of the excellent Policy for Play, which describes the twenty-year campaign to enshrine the right of the child to play in government and planning policy. He told me: ‘Adventure playgrounds responded to the loss of spaces where children could play. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need playgrounds because spaces where children grow up and go about their day would be spaces which they – and their parents – could perceive as safe. Playgrounds condescend to children’s need to play. They make it separate: but is this to keep children safe – or is it to keep society orderly and safe from children? Sadly, however, we don’t live in a perfect world so if it wasn’t for playgrounds, where else would children play?’

‘radical thinking about children in the built environment is coming close to eliminating the playground all together’

Some of the most radical thinking about children in the built environment is coming close to eliminating the playground all together. A cross-disciplinary team, led by Dinah Bornat of ZCD Architects, is using people-counting methodologies developed by Jan Gehl to gather evidence of the extent to which housing design fosters or discourages free outdoor play.

Bornat describes this as a new way of looking at external spaces: ‘In housing schemes that work well, play happens spontaneously. What’s needed is for children to have access to car-free, communal space from their doorsteps. We’re looking at ways in which housing design can enable this to happen.’

The origins of these ways of thinking can be found in the work of the anarchist, urbanist and educator, Colin Ward. In 1979, he looked outside the playground and said: ‘I don’t want a Childhood City. I want a city where children live in the same world as I do… If the claim of children to share the city is admitted, the whole environment has to be designed and shaped with their needs in mind… Every step the city takes to reduce the dominance of motor traffic makes the city more accessible to the child. It also makes life more tolerable for every other citizen.’

We should question our practice. We should make cities playable. But let’s not give up entirely on that playful, sculptural, experimental landscape that is experienced with both body and imagination known as the playground. The design of playgrounds still has plenty to say about the design and experience of all landscape.

Maisie Rowe

‘A eulogy for an unfulfilled future; a statement of faith in the possibility of resurrection’.

5 Apr
Bernard Spiegal reviews ‘Policy for Play: Responding to children’s forgotten right’ by Adrian Voce, published by Policy Press.

Bernard Spiegal

I was invited by the International Journal of Play to write a review of  Adrian Voce’s ‘Policy for Play: Responding to children’s forgotten right’. 

This is the original manuscript of the review published by Taylor & Francis in International Journal of Play on 15 March 2016  available online http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21594937.2016.1146492

Policy for Play is at once a eulogy for the demise of an unfulfilled, wished-for future, and a statement of faith in the need for, and possibility of, resurrection.

The unfulfilled future is the Play Strategy for England which did not live long beyond its birth; the hope of resurrection resides in the belief of many play advocates, and certainly the author’s,  that children’s ‘forgotten right’ to play can be secured only by a national, all-embracing policy (or strategy, the terms are used interchangeably) for play.

Policy for Play is Adrian Voce’s well-written account of the rationale for national play polices…

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How the world’s most ambitious play policy was interrupted

23 Mar

 

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Policy for Play: responding to children’s forgotten right
by Adrian Voce
Policy Press, 2015
Reviewed by Maria Nordström

 Maria Nordström reviews a book that describes how a policy initiative in England, which elevated the importance of planning and investment in children’s play, became a pawn in a game of high politics.

In London, in 2004, Adrian Voce, the author of this engaging new book, was at the forefront of a play policy initiative that was perhaps unique anywhere in the world. It was then that the first elected Mayor of London (2004) published the London Plan, the spatial and economic development strategy for one of the world’s greatest cities.

Thanks largely to Voce and his colleagues at the small, regional NGO, London Play, this important, high-level strategy included a policy to protect and develop space for children’s play: a commitment that was then underpinned by the production of guidance (Mayor of London, 2005) to London’s 33 local borough councils on how they should develop local play strategies to implement the policy. There followed supplementary planning guidance (Mayor of London, 2008) on minimum space standards – qualitative and quantitative – for children’s play space.

This ground-breaking development in London led, indirectly, two years later, to the adoption of the Mayor’s approach by England’s largest non-governmental funding body, the Big Lottery Fund (2006) for its £155m Children’s Play Initiative, which saw each of England’s local authorities develop area wide play strategies as the basis for allocated lottery funding. It was no coincidence that, by this time, Voce was director of the influential Children’s Play Council, which became the lottery programme’s delivery partner – establishing the new national body, Play England in the process.

Suddenly, children’s play, playgrounds and play space were on the agenda like never before. Crucially, the importance of proper strategic planning for play was being recognised by policymakers for the first time…

Suddenly, children’s play, playgrounds and play space were on the agenda like never before. Crucially, the importance of proper strategic planning for play was being recognised by policymakers for the first time, and it was not long before the national government got in on the act.

The UK government’s £235m Play Strategy (DCMS, 2008), with Play England contracted to support its delivery, was intended to last for ten years, aiming to make England ‘the best place in the world to grow up’. But it was not to be. Consequent to the major economic crisis of 2007-2008, and the change of government in 2010, the strategy was cancelled – but not before the unprecedented sum of £360m had been spent on public play provision.

Britain has long had its strong personalities committed to children’s right to a child-friendly city, and especially to their right to play. Adrian Voce joins Colin Ward, Roger Hart, Tim Gill and several other influential writers and thinkers who have made Britain a beacon for play advocates everywhere. The most famous of these, Roger Hart, the eminent children’s geographer now living in the United States, has written a fine foreword to this book.

Voce…paints a vivid picture of how strong an influence can be wielded by dedicated practitioners – in this case playworkers – when committed to affecting change.

Voce shows how the play policy venture became a pawn in a highly political game, but he also paints a vivid picture of how strong an influence can be wielded by dedicated practitioners – in this case playworkers – when committed to affecting change.

These ‘advocates for play’ are an English phenomenon, with no direct equivalent in Sweden. Perhaps the closest comparison is with people working in, for example, park games, whose task it is to encourage and support children’s play without controlling or organising it according to predetermined programmes or ‘outcomes’.

The emergence of playworkers, of whom Voce himself was one, arose from those who staffed traditional adventure playgrounds in England from the 1950s and 60s onwards, and it is to such places that he suggests one should look to discover the essence of a good play space. Adventure playgrounds simply allow children space to explore, materials to mould and environments to transform, constantly evolving as integral components of their daily play lives, where something new will always emerge.

Such places – or equivalent – and their qualities are essential components of good play provision according to Voce. His book challenges our notions of playgrounds as defined spaces, locked into a specific appearance and reliant on pre-existing designs and equipment. Instead, there is the suggestion that all space for children should simply be conceived as a place where they might play, and to afford them as many possibilities for it as possible.

his book challenges our notions of playgrounds as defined spaces, locked into a specific appearance and reliant on pre-existing designs and equipment

Voce and his practitioner colleagues have happily adopted the term ‘playwork’ to describe their role; it is important, he emphasises, that we understand that play and work are not opposing phenomena. Referring to a well-known quote from the great play scholar, Brian Sutton-Smith, Voce agrees that the opposite of play is depression.

The English Play Strategy, and the longer-term play policy adventure that Voce relates so vividly, came to an abrupt end in 2010. Perhaps as a consolation to the reader – and himself – Voce mentions briefly the more enduring (so far), play policy of Wales – which has devolved powers for education, youth and, therefore, play. Here, there is now a legal requirement on all municipalities to account for and evaluate a ‘sufficiency’ of children’s local play opportunities: the first country in the world to enact such a measure, he says.

Once upon a time, Sweden was unique, with our national standards for children’s playgrounds in newly built neighbourhoods. But that story is not written yet; not in English.

Maria Nordström, Ph.D., Environmental Psychologist, is a visiting researcher at the Swedish University Of Agricultural Sciences.

 References

 Big Lottery Fund (BIG) (2005) Children’s Play Initiative: https://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/global-content/programmes/england/childrens-play

DCSF / DCMS (2008), The Play Strategy, London: Crown Copyright.

Mayor of London (2004) The London Plan: the Spatial Development Strategy for London, London: Greater London Authority.

Mayor of London (2005), Guide to Preparing Play Strategies; planning inclusive play space and opportunities for all London’s children and young people. London: Greater London Authority.

Mayor of London (2008), Supplementary Planning Guidance: providing for children and young people’s play and informal recreation, London: Greater London Authority.


This review has been translated from the original Swedish version, which first appeared in the print journal, STAD: debatt och reflexion om urbana landscape (CITY: debate and reflection on urban landscapes), Issue 12, March, 2016.


Policy for Play can be ordered here

 

 

 

“Let’s end the institutionalisation of childhood”

9 Feb

In this interview from the ‘Childcare Conversations’ series on First Discoverers, author of Policy for Play, Adrian Voce talks about why he found playwork so rewarding and why campaigning for children’s right to play is so important to him.

Above all, writer Adrian Voce is a passionate advocate for children’s play, which his latest book ‘Policy for Play’ uncompromisingly describes as a child’s ‘forgotten right’. In conversation with First Discoverers, Adrian reveals some thought-provoking observations about childcare issues, explains why working with children is a privilege, and calls for an end to the ‘institutionalisation of childhood’.

“… more a playworker than a childcare worker”

Careerwise, Adrian recalls how, even before he became a parent, he felt very fortunate to be working on adventure playgrounds: “… my working life was a kind of reverse of the norm. Most other people went home to their families at the end of the day. I used to get the feeling I was coming home each day that I went into work …”

Role definition is significant for Adrian who definitely regards himself ‘more as a playworker than a childcare worker’, and it’s uplifting to hear his explanation of why the distinction is important: “I think children playing … are as vibrant and alive as humanity gets and it’s a huge privilege to be in that world again, with the reflective capacity of an adult.” Continuing, he confesses himself: “… driven by the need to help create [play] opportunities for children who may not otherwise have so many of them.”

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Dignity, respect and empathy…

Discussing inspirational moments he has experienced, Adrian recounts a moving story which will resonate with all childcare professionals:

“I worked as a special needs assistant, supporting a boy with mobility difficulties to take part in the mainstream education system. He was a normal little boy with a love of play and sport, and a real competitive nature. But his legs didn’t work very well and he spent a lot of time on his hands and knees. He was a great crawler! My job was to intervene as little as necessary to enable him to be part of the class, but mainly to just let him get on with it.

One sports day in Year 2, he lined up with other kids for a beanbag race between two teams. When it was his turn to race, the boy from the other team who lined up against him, when he saw who he was up against, without any cue or instruction from the adults or other kids, just instinctively dropped to his hands and knees so that they could have a fair race. I thought that was quite special.”

“It’s time we asked … whether schools and childcare are children-ready”

As a respected consultant on public provision for children’s play and the founding director of Play England, Adrian is clearly a dedicated campaigner – so look away now if you are easily unnerved by forthright opinion expressed by a committed children’s activist –

On playwork:

“I’d like to see the tenets, knowledge and skills of playwork recognised as core to the skill-set required for all childcare workers, in both early years and after school settings; and a reversal of the insidious institutionalisation of childhood that I fear is a result of our obsession with a very narrow measure of education.”

On schools and childcare:

“Rather than focusing on children being school-ready, it’s time we took a few big steps back and asked whether schools and childcare are really children-ready.”

On parenting attitudes:

“The message [parents] get is that they are over-protective, paranoid even, for being wary to let their children out alone … what is ‘risky play’ for example? It does not sound like something I would like my children to be doing! I think it’s an ill-advised label for a sensible, professional approach to managing risks …”

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Paradise lost…

Working with others on a national campaign to persuade government to make children’s play a policy priority enabled Adrian to voice his playwork philosophy:

I think children should be in supportive environments where they feel safe and secure enough to be themselves … to explore, invent, manipulate and discover. [They should have] access to the elements, a wide range of loose parts and materials … and opportunities to climb, hide, build, jump, balance, swing and all the other things a playful child wants to do … their playful nature will do the rest.”

Nevertheless, as he recounts, political intervention eventually succeeded in transforming an enlightened, groundbreaking approach into a roller-coaster ride:

“This led to the national Play Strategy for England of 2008, an ambitious 10-12 year plan with many different elements, that was designed to make England the best country in the world for children’s play. Seeing this scrapped after only two years, by people who did not even understand what it was, was pretty tough …”

“… there is a wider responsibility to make the public realm safer … for children.”

Moving on to discuss the supposed perils of play, Adrian’s playworker perspective on adventure play evokes a nuanced response. When asked if children can ever be ‘too safe’, he observes:

This is a big question and it depends what we mean by safe. Emotionally, no: the more loved and accepted a child feels, the more resilient, creative and adaptable they will be. But physically, denying children the incremental freedoms they need to explore the world on its own terms is not really keeping them safe, but rather protecting ourselves from the objects of our own anxiety … I wonder sometimes whether we put too much focus as a sector on the whole issue of risk and safety … Another problem I have with some of the current discourse about risk is that it tends to overshadow the fact that some of the risks parents are concerned about are all too real … [with] traffic, for example, they may have a real concern about exposing children to roads that are many times busier and more dangerous than they used to be. If we want parents to be more willing to allow their children the freedom to play outside, then there is a wider responsibility to make the public realm safer – and seen to be safer – for children.”

And finally, Adrian’s advice to anyone considering a career in childcare is predictably upbeat and enthusiastic:

Go for it! Working with children is the most enjoyable way to make a living that I’ve ever had the privilege to follow. Be real, don’t patronise them … they will respond to that and reward you with absolute trust … I think children need that feeling of a safe place, where they can be themselves and know that they are OK, no matter what. I think a good playworker (childcare worker, teacher) gives them that.”

David Williams

This interview first appeared on First Discoverers

Bold move to kickstart an outdoor play renaissance in Canada

13 Jan

An interesting development in Canada, reported by Tim Gill, who will be involved.

Rethinking Childhood

Last week the Lawson Foundation, a Canadian family foundation, launched an ambitious outdoor play strategy with the announcement of $2.7 million (£1.3 million; $US 1.9 million) in funding for 14 projects.

Lawson Foundation outdoor play strategy graphic

The strategy has an explicit and exclusive focus on unstructured outdoor play. Tackling risk aversion is a prominent theme, building on the Foundation’s recent support for a groundbreaking consensus position statement [pdf link] whose key message is that the biggest risk is keeping kids indoors.

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Come on, it’s not so bad – the APPG report on play

22 Oct

While critical of its main recommendation, Bernard Spiegal finds many positive things to say about the recent APPG report on play.

Bernard Spiegal

It’s true, the recent report on play by the All-Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood would have benefited from some judicious editing and organising in terms of structure and length. True, too, that there are points where it veers off in directions that some might feel are not entirely consistent with other points it seeks to make.

But if you’re of a mind that repetition of one’s cardinal beliefs is evidence of their veracity, this may be the report for you. For not a page goes by where one is not reminded that, truly, play is a wondrous thing – as activity; as state of mind; as scourge of obesity epidemics; as generator of formal educational achievement – capable of generating every kind of benefit. No slouch, either, this report, for it takes care to reference the basis of its analysis and conclusions.

Nevertheless, disappointment has been expressed…

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Child’s play? Investing in the young despite austerity

26 Jun
This guest blog by Andrew Ross, which he has adapted from his LGiU briefing to local authority members and officers, succinctly sets out some of the arguments for maintaining play provision in the face of pressure for further cuts.

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Readers of this blog will be acutely aware of the threats to playgrounds and to play services. The London Play & Youth Work Campaign has come out fighting, warning the new government that it must:

‘recognise the profound value of play and youth work to society. If not, then be warned: cutting us will not be an easy ride.’

It’s not as if this ‘profound value’ is a secret. I recently wrote a briefing for local authority members of the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), an organisation that aims to improve local democracy. I pulled together the findings from two recent reviews that caution local councils against cutting money for play because of the many wider benefits that play services bring. The first was by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on a Fit and Healthy Childhood. Adrian Voce has written about the APPG approach, set out in its first paper, Healthy Patterns for Healthy Families; and about its forthcoming play review, expected later this summer.

The other – The Play Return – was commissioned by the Children’s Play Policy Forum and written by Tim Gill. Tim cites the many developmental benefits for children of play. But he also points out that play could be a prudent investment for other reasons too. Play initiatives:

  • encourage volunteering and community cohesion: the review illustrates a number of examples of where this has happened, including Playing Out schemes
  • reduce antisocial behaviour and vandalism: Thames Valley Police have reported that installing youth facilities in Banbury led to a 25 per cent drop in the cost of repairs to children’s play equipment
  • reduce obesity: one study has found that children with a playground in a local park are ‘almost five times more likely to be classified as being of a healthy weight rather than at risk of being overweight’ than those without playgrounds in their nearby park
  • create healthier places: providing enticing outdoor play spaces can make a trip to the local park more inviting for children and their carers, and is one way of making it easier for people to maintain good health
  • reduce inequalities: public parks are – or should be – free to use, and are places where any child can play regardless of their family’s income.

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It’s tempting to think that the arguments speak for themselves. But local authorities are under enormous pressure to cut budgets. For example, government figures show that council spending on open spaces (excluding national parks) fell by 14 per cent, or almost £15.5 million between 2009-10 and 2013-14. In practice, that means councils have already reduced funding on maintaining parks, adventure playgrounds, sports fields and a whole range of services that go on in them.

How can they be persuaded to keep spending on play? I think elected members need to be reminded constantly of how increasing the opportunities for play can help create the sorts of communities that councils are elected to deliver, even as budgets continue to decline: places that are attractive to live in, safe, connected and where everyone feels like they have a stake in the local area.

This means making spending on play part of something bigger. One example is Knowsley Council’s Green Space Strategy (2015-2020). It acknowledges the many benefits of providing outdoor play spaces, but recognises that funding to maintain and develop these is under threat. The strategy focuses on what the council can influence:

  • Leadership: this starts with the council and elected members but should draw in people from public, private and social enterprise sectors (which could include representatives from the play sector)
  • Achieving more with partners: including local communities, but also working with other stakeholders to create new management partnerships (again, the play sector could have an influential role here)
  • Establishing a compelling business case for investing in green space assets: Knowsley believes that its future economic resilience and competitiveness ‘will be strongly influenced’ by the overall quality of its parks and green spaces
  • Securing funding and investment: Knowsley is developing a needs-based approach that will allow it to assess how best to continue to invest in green spaces and services
  • Identifying alternative delivery models: these are likely to include private funding, support from the community and voluntary sectors, generating more income from uses of the green spaces, and fund-raising/sponsorship.

As for what limited spending there will be on play specifically, what might be the biggest wins for any investment? The former director of Play England Cath Prisk writes that:

‘The onus will be on local providers, schools and councils to make the case that is right for them to increase or sustain investment in most provision.’

She suggests three possibilities:

  • Street Play (championed by the Bristol-based Playing Out), where streets are closed regularly so children can play – this achieves multiple objectives of play, physical activity, and community cohesion – ‘not free, but certainly not a huge expense’
  • Encouraging head teachers to use some of the pupil premium and protected school funding to invest in spaces to play because of the evidence that play and outdoor activity improves attainment (most particularly for this funding in reading and maths)
  • More outdoor nurseries utilising existing quality outdoor spaces following the government’s commitment to double the free childcare allowance for three- and four-year-olds in England.

I’d be really interested to know how well the local authority in your area understands how play connects to some of the wider arguments about creating decent places to live, and whether that is reflected in their spending plans! Feel free to leave me a comment below, or tweet me at @andrew_ross_uk.

This blog was written by Andrew Ross, a freelance writer, researcher and facilitator specialising in urban places, andrew@fdconsult.co.uk. It is an abridged version of an LGiU briefing, available to members only. For more information, or to subscribe, visit www.lgiu.org.uk/briefings

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The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

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