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Playing Out Story

From small action to national movement.

2007-8: Talking and imagining

Playing Out has its roots in discussions amongst like-minded parents in South Bristol. Our neighbourhood is close to the city centre, with mostly terraced housing, few green spaces and busy roads. It is also a thriving mixed community with a culture of local action.

As our children grew up, we started to feel frustrated that their freedom to play out was so restricted, mainly because of traffic. We did what we could to let our own kids play out on pavements and in the park but it felt like something significant needed to change.

Then neighbours Alice Ferguson and Amy Rose hit on an idea. They knew you could apply to have a street party – why not use this procedure to simply close the street to traffic one day after school, giving over the space for children to play out freely?

2009: A seed is sown

The first playing out session happened on June 1st 2009. While adults looked out for cars and chatted, around 30 children of all ages played in the street together. Nothing special was organised – chalk, skipping ropes, bikes and scooters were brought out and children just relished the chance to play in their own street.

2010: A model develops

Encouraged by the positive response, Alice and Amy applied for a small amount of funding through their residents’ association. With this, they supported residents on six local streets to trial the model. They also developed guidance materials, made a film and set up the early version of this website to help and inspire others. Read their report here. Long-Street-View

The playing out idea – and conversations around it – quickly spread via social media.  We received a growing number of emails and calls from residents, councils, organisations and experts in the field of children and play including Tim Gill, a leading writer and researcher on childhood, who said, “I think [Playing Out] is the most exciting, visionary initiative I’ve heard about for the last decade or more”. (Wow!)

2011: The idea spreads

With support from The Funding Network we took the Playing Out idea to Oxford in early 2011. This was followed by a flurry of national media coverage, including features on Radio 4’s PM, Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show and ITV Tonight. Within a couple of weeks, we had responded to over 100 enquiries from residents wanting to get their own streets ‘playing out’ in Bristol and beyond.

It was clear that there was a real demand for what we were doing, so in July 2011 Playing Out was registered as a Community Interest Company with an aim to support resident-led street play across the UK.

Later the same year, together with Tim Gill and Dr Angie Page, we met with senior officials from the Department of Health to discuss government support for street play.

Then in September 2011, Bristol City Council launched the Temporary Play Street Order (TPSO) pilot, allowing residents to open their streets for play up to 3 hours a week.

2012: A groundbreaking policy

During the year, more national press resulted in over 300 enquiries from residents, professionals and councils across the UK and a pilot evaluation by Bristol University found that playing out sessions significantly increased children’s time spent outdoors and their physical activity levels.

By September 2012, 17 streets had applied for regular playing out sessions involving around 500 children and 200 adults. Bristol City Council established the TPSO as ongoing policy, setting a precedent for other councils to follow. Read the report here.

2013-16: A national movement

Discussions with the Department for Health led to funding to support street play over 3 years, in partnership with Play England, London Play and the University of Bristol, with Playing Out providing a hub for residents and growing the national grassroots movement.

By the end the first year, over 100 streets across the UK were regularly playing out and 30 local authorities had begun putting supportive policies in place.

By the end of year 2, we had dealt with well over 400 enquiries from residents and over 250 streets were playing out regularly across the country. We had also hosted two annual ‘activator days’ in Bristol, with active residents from 16 different areas coming together to share experience and get inspired about helping the playing out idea to take root in their cities and neighbourhoods.

As we reach the end of this project, we are very excited to see how the idea has been taken up so enthusiastically in streets across the country and the deep and lasting impact that is having for children, parents and their wider communities.

Into the future…

Whilst the playing out idea has now gone national (and international!) we continue to be deeply rooted in Bristol as a ‘lab’ for new ideas and learning – for example, working with residents and community organisations to enable playing out in high-rise estates and co-facilitating the Bristol Child Friendly City project. You can read a report of the work we did across Bristol in 2015 and 2016 here. Nationally, we will keep supporting existing and new ‘area activators’ as a way of embedding the playing out idea in other towns and cities across the UK. Other exciting developments include working with housing associations and architects to enable play-friendly estates and linking with like-minded organisations to lobby for policy supporting children’s freedom to play out.

Throughout all this, our vision remains the same: that children are free to play out where they live.