The Impact of Playing Out
Playing out is benefiting children, adults, streets and wider communities. Here’s how it’s making a difference.
A national picture
Since Playing Out began supporting residents to organise street play where they live:
- Over 500 street communities have ‘played out’ across the UK.
- Most of these streets are having at least 12 sessions a year.
- Around 15,000 children and 7,500 adults have been directly involved on their street.
- 45 councils are now actively supporting the playing out model and many have specific street play policies in place.
But the impact of street play is not simply about numbers. It’s about the deeper changes taking place each time residents open their front doors to meet, play and use the street space in a shared way.
Improving children’s health and wellbeing
“It’s so rewarding to watch my son play tag, scoot and do chalking with other kids on our street. He’s getting a good run-around and feels like he really belongs.” Jessica, Bristol
Evidence shows how few children get the physical activity they need to stay fit and healthy. Children aged between 5 and 18 need an hour each day of what health professionals call ‘moderate to vigorous physical activity’. But in children aged between 5 and 15, only 16% of girls and 21% of boys actually get that much.
Playing out in the street gives children a chance to play energetically by scooting, playing tag, cycling, skating and in many other ways. One mum described a playing out session as children “getting exercise without noticing”, and it’s a good way of putting it.
Research by the University of Bristol has shown that children are three to five times more active during playing out sessions than they would be on a ‘normal’ day when they didn’t have the chance to play in their street. Another, more interview-based evaluation of streets in Hackney in London, also highlighted the significant amount of physical activity children achieved at street play sessions. This study found street play activity, with children playing freely in the way they chose, to be on a par with 14 additional weekly PE lessons each school term.
Further research shows that simply being outdoors is linked with increased physical activity, in streets as well as other outside spaces. So supporting residents across the country to make their streets safe and acceptable places for play helps children to have a healthy, active lifestyle.
The World Health Organisation’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity published a report (January 2016) stressing the important influence of childhood experience on lifelong physical activity habits. It recommends the creation of “safe, physical activity-friendly communities, which enable, and encourage the use of active transport (walking, cycling etc.) and participation in an active lifestyle and physical activities.”
We are seeing more and more that residential streets are spaces where these habits can form.
- They can build practical skills like learning to ride a bike and scoot safely ready for other journeys locally on wheels or on foot.
“My boy has been practising cycling during our playing out sessions and it’s totally paid off. He’s now independently cycling.” Jo, Bristol
- They can learn to make good judgements and become more confident as they begin to get around independently. These important skills include the ability to assess risks, know who to trust in emergencies and how to react to new and challenging situations. During playing out sessions children can practise these skills in a safe space and with parents and carers nearby.
Stronger communities; a sense of belonging
“We’ve all got to know each other. Our street is quite long and I’d never met a lot of my neighbours since we go to different schools. Since playing out, our street now has two book clubs and we meet regularly. There’s definitely a change in the atmosphere. People stop and say hello.” Bristol street organiser
Playing out helps to build connections, friendships and trust between neighbours of all ages. Children are making new friends and playmates. And through talking about the idea on doorsteps and during playing out sessions, residents of all ages are meeting, exchanging ideas and feeling their street is a safer, friendlier place to live.
And it’s not only the view of residents. The police too, see the way street play can help build stronger communities.
“Crime and anti-social behaviour will not thrive in strong communities. The benefits of playing out go way beyond the fun the children have. It is the community coming together to achieve something they can see and hear that really makes the difference. Getting to know each other, understand each other, trust each other and develop a sense of community achieves much more to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour than patrolling police officers can.” Chief Inspector Kevan Rowlands, Avon and Somerset Police
Knowing adults they can turn to and trust is important for children as they grow up and start to make independent journeys. And parents and carers on playing out streets have said how much better they feel about letting their children go to the shop, a friend’s house or the park because there are other people locally who know them and are ready to help them.
Surveys have shown that most adults see the value of children playing outside for everyone: In a 2010 opinion poll 81% of adults said they believed children playing outside helps to improve community spirit and 70% said they thought playing out makes an area more desirable to live in.
Active citizens; having a voice
“The scheme has strengthened the sense of community, and has been a stepping stone for other community groups including a park user group.” Hackney street organiser
Organising playing out, volunteering as a steward and getting more involved in the life of their street often inspires residents to do more within their local communities. We know of people who have gone on to attend their local neighbourhood forums, including groups working on infrastructure changes to make areas more bike and pedestrian friendly. Others have used playing out sessions to collect toys and clothes for organisations working with disadvantaged families in their area.
For children too, playing out can influence their view of democracy and encourage them to feel they can change things and have a voice as they grow up. Seeing the adults around them meeting, taking action and changing their street from a ‘no-go’ area to a public space that’s open for play can inspire them to feel they too can make things happen.
A long-term culture change
“My hope is that the need for officialdom abates and people drive carefully in and out of the street as they expect children to be playing. I want to be an old lady, sitting out at the front of my house, watching kids playing and telling them stories about when cars were more important than people!” Bristol street organiser
Our vision is for children across the UK to be able to play out freely in the streets and open spaces directly outside their front door. And we want to get to a point where they can do this easily at any time, without the need for an organised playing out session, stewards and ‘road closed ‘ signs. Many adults and children who play out on their street have said how much they’d like things to be that way too. And on some streets, changes are starting to happen.
“A spontaneous scooter gang emerged in our street recently, a sure sign that after 18 months of formal playing out sessions in our street – things are changing! This was not a road closure playing out session, it just happened!” Bristol street organiser
Amongst councils too, there is a growing recognition of the value of street play in improving children’s health and in supporting stronger communities. Often, seeing a playing out session has a powerful effect on policy-makers.
“Recently I was the Cabinet Member for Environment at the London Borough of Hackney. When I first considered the introduction of play streets I was instinctively against them. And my opinion was strengthened when I read the report and requirement that each scheme would need. It was the worry about disruption to traffic and the dangers of encouraging children to play in the street that caused me to take this view. However, I did take the opportunity to visit one street play session that was happening, and after observing for some time I quickly changed my mind. The opportunity for residents on the street to come together and get to know each other was fantastic. And of course the purpose of the idea – for all the children to play together on the street – was wonderful.” Councillor John Bevan, London Borough of Haringey
At national level, there is new understanding about how resident-led street play is helping to solve urgent public health problems. The playing out model was included as a case study in an annual report by the UK’s Chief Medical Officer. And cross-parliamentary groups have commissioned reports on ways to improve children’s opportunities for physical activity and play.
Media and public debate are also reflecting changing social attitudes towards children’s rights to play, explore and belong in streets and public spaces. Playing Out, together with other organisations, is contributing to that national conversation, and street organisers themselves are speaking up and sharing their personal experiences.
And at international level there is growing momentum to meet children’s needs more fully – including their need for physical activity and freedom. Through the UNICEF Child Friendly Cities initiative, cities around the world are finding ways to put children at their heart. And Playing Out is one of three grassroots organisations focusing on making Bristol a Child Friendly City.
These are some of the ways playing out is making a difference. We’ll continue to gather evidence and data as well as the rich experiences of people doing things on their own streets to build a bigger picture. If you want to know more about the evidence we’ve referred to, or have things to share about the impact of street play please get in touch.