Close Roads So Children Can Play in the Street Like Their Parents Did

Posted
Thu, 08/03/2017 - 9:24am
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3 months ago
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Street play CREDIT: NICK TUNER PHOTOGRAPHY

Roads should be closed regularly to allow children to play in the street as they did a generation ago, health experts have said, after a study showed pilot schemes increased youngsters’ activity five-fold.

More than 500 communities in Britain have already signed up to the ‘Playing Out’ initiative, which works with local councils to temporarily pedestrianise roads for an hour or two each week to allow children to play safely near their homes.

A new analysis of the simple scheme by the University of Bristol found that residents reported a greater sense of a community, overall happiness, and said their areas were more friendly and safer. One woman claimed the project had even helped her combat post-natal depression.

Children’s activity levels also soared by between three and five-fold on the road closure days, and parents said skills such as cycling and road safety awareness had also improved.

As more children started to get to know each other, the study authors found that a ‘calling for you’ culture developed where youngsters began drop in on each other to see if their new friends wanted to play outdoors.

Youngsters interviewed said that were it not for the scheme they would usually be sitting inside, watching TV, playing video games, or eating pizza.

‘We know that time spent outdoors is related to greater daily physical activity and reduced risk of obesity,” said Angie Page, Professor of Physical Activity and Public Health at Bristol University.

“This resident-led intervention shows the potential for meaningful increases in physical activity as well as social benefits to both children and the communities in which they live.

“It is relatively low cost, scaleable and potentially sustainable – this is why it makes sense for public health.” 

Although NHS guidelines suggest that, from the age of five, children need 60 minutes of physical activity a day only 21 per cent of boys and 16 per cent of girls achieve that.

Each extra hour of activity daily is associated with 0.5 lower Body Mass Index, but declining exercise levels means that one in three youngsters in Britain is now overweight or obese.

The Playing Out movement was founded in 2011 by Alice Ferguson, a mother who wanted her own children to be able to play in the street, as she had done as a child.

The Bristol study found children using the scheme were outdoors for at least 70 per cent of the time that the roads were closed.

Mrs Ferguson said: “We never expected it to take off like this and to have so many amazing outcomes for whole street communities.

“This growing movement is really starting to challenge the idea that ‘playing out’ is a thing of the past.

“Children today need the chance to be outside, active, making friends and being part of their communities just as much as we did a generation ago”.

Parents who have established schemes in their area say it has completely changed communities.

Alison Stenning, a mother and ‘Playing Out’ organiser from North Tyneside said: “The kids all know each other now, across different ages and regardless of the school they go to. Some of the older kids now babysit for the younger ones

“Lots of them have learnt to ride their bikes or scooters during playing out sessions. Older kids have taught younger kids to skip, blow bubbles, play hopscotch.

“The adults play too with their own and other kids. I bought a scooter of my own for street play. We all know each other much better than we did before. We chat to each other in the street, on the school run etc. Lots of us have been to each other's houses for drinks and food

A second report by researcher Tim Gill, author of ‘No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society’, found that the scheme was particularly helpful in disadvantaged areas where children had no parks or where streets were dangerous.

“My study shows that play streets are not just for up-and-coming urban areas and leafy suburbs: they can succeed in poorer areas too,” said Mr Gill.

“Local authorities must make the bureaucracy as simple as possible, and give practical help to residents, if they are to reach the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.”

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