Angela Smith lives in Easton in Bristol and works freelance for Playing Out supporting residents to think about making their streets more playable and helping some to organise regular playing out sessions. She’s recently been supporting residents in streets of terraced houses, as well as families living in high-rise flats who want their children to be able to play out safely. Here she talks about how organising playing out on her own Easton street has helped her understand her community better.
Like many areas of Bristol, Easton is a mixed bag – leafy avenues are a stone’s throw from tower blocks and low rises. It’s busy too. Narrow streets, densely populated, lots of cars, wheelie bins and recycling boxes all over the pavement – never attempt an amble with the pushchair on bin day!
Our street isn’t on either extreme of the Easton spectrum. There’s a mix of new build, Victorian, houses and flats; occupied by the old, young, single, families, working, unemployed and disabled. We have residents who were born in Turkey, Poland, Spain, Somalia, France, the Caribbean, and of course all over the UK, including a 70-year-old and a two-year-old who were both born in their houses on our street!
Ups and Downs
Playing out for me has been a bit of a roller coaster of highs and lows. The first few sessions were exhilarating and busy, but largely made up of family and friends. But it’s mostly been three families flying the flag since. Even on quiet plays it’s still felt worth doing, as we know if it’s going to make a lasting difference, we need to play the long game. We don’t have the consistent buy-in some streets have, but for a number of genuine and complex reasons; parents with very young children, language or cultural barriers, aspirational differences (What? Just play on the street?), busy schedules, joint or kin-custody of children and lots more besides. It’s still early days though and with each session the street interconnects in new ways with our children showing us how it’s really done. They don’t need introductions, common ground or even a shared language to understand how to play tug of war!
Half our sessions have been cancelled because of weather, lack of stewards and holidays; but the other half have just got better and better. There have been impromptu tabletop sales, recycling, crafting, tea and cake sharing, skill swapping as well as all the usual (and more unusual) children’s games. Each time it’s cancelled, I feel a massive sense of disappointment. But when it works, I’m over the moon! All those little conversations paid off. People came.
Our most recent session felt very natural. I hadn’t leafleted (which I’d done for previous sessions) so was thrilled to see ten or so families out by the end. Some meeting for the first time; some becoming friends. Advertising during the session was certainly helped by a homemade wheelie-bin sound system a neighbour was proudly showcasing! (Incidentally, I felt nervous about this, as I didn’t want to put out some of our older or less engaged residents. Butpeople told me it was a great reminder and lured them out.)
Not everyone is confident enough or willing to come out with their children though. On my road it does seem to be a cultural difference. Perhaps having larger families to supervise or generally having a different attitude to outdoor play? However I’ve made time to get to know these neighbours, so am happy to watch their children if asked and feel confident that we could resolve any issues if they came up.
Personally, I feel very proud to be a part of making our street a little bit friendlier and safer. Let’s hope we get enough stewards together for the next one. If not, a neighbour suggested we cram into a front room for a lazy Sunday afternoon film session instead! Win win, I reckon.
Easton is apparently home one of “the most dangerous streets in Britain” (according to a Daily Mail story a while ago) which is one of the many reasons why I teamed up with some other Easton residents to show off the area’s true potential by jumping on the Pharrell Williams Bandwagon!
We did our best to ensure that our homemade music video captured Easton’s spirit and celebrated all the people that make it great. This includes my street playing out! We hope that local organisations and community groups will take this film and use it to promote where they live and work and help lift the often unfair reputation Easton has.
You can view the Happy Easton music video here – and do look out for the dancing police!