I hear from residents wanting to make their street more of a place for play and social interaction through many different routes in my role as Playing Out co-ordinator for Bristol. Sometimes people have had a street party and realised how much fun it was to have the street full of people. Sometimes people have seen kids out playing on the pavement and thought how good it would be to give them more physical space for their games and activities. Often I come across a local group wanting to bring a sense of community back to their area… the list goes on. My initial response tends to be the same: what is your street like now, and what changes would you like to see?
Try small actions first
Often, my advice is to do some small actions first and get to know your street better. Maybe have a cup of tea outside your front door, try to say hello to someone new, put a pot of flowers out… some people have done some chalking in their road (see Easy and Effortless Things for ideas). These actions can do a lot to get conversations going between neighbours and create a more positive atmosphere.
Would an organised playing out session work on your street?
Once you feel comfortable with how things are on your street, the next step is often to get a group of like-minded neighbours together to talk about whether organised playing out sessions could work. Playing out sessions are temporary road closures for a few hours after school or at weekends which allow children to play safely and freely in a residential street. They began in Bristol in 2009 and soon after that the council launched a policy which allows residents to apply for permission to temporarily close their roads to through traffic on a regular basis using official “road closed” signs. Once the signs are in place, the street space can be used for children to play, make friends and have fun and for parents and other adult neighbours to gather, chat and have a cup of tea. Residents volunteer as stewards to ensure children stay in the closed part of the street and non-residential traffic is diverted. It’s an idea which has caught on with residents well as other local authorities across the country and there are now around 20 councils allowing it to happen regularly.
If you live in an area with a supportive council and want to try organising a playing out session, allow yourself plenty of time. It takes about six weeks for Bristol council to process an application and the whole process can take about three months from initial meeting to first session. You may want to try a one-off road closure to test the waters before applying to doing it regularly.
Talk to neighbours and share out the jobs
At this point, it pays to work out what time and resources people have. Is someone happy to flyer the street, host an open meeting, talk to uncertain neighbours or be the named applicant? Sometimes the small things can stop you in your tracks: a broken printer, a new job that takes up all your time. That’s where it helps to have a supportive group of neighbours and share the jobs among you. And hopefully our Useful Stuff section will help with the process.
Another tip is to try to identify any key people on the street who may be either very positive or likely to have concerns, and then ask someone to talk to each one, preferably through connections already in place.
How often do you want to play out?
Every street needs to think about what would work for them which often means finding out when people who are prepared to steward are free. In Bristol, some streets close monthly, others fortnightly and others weekly. Some just do a certain number of sessions over the summer months, some change the frequency in the winter. The day of the week varies too: some like to do an hour or so after school during the week, others prefer to do weekend afternoons.
The process itself varies across the country. In Bristol, the application requires the street to be formally consulted before the form is submitted. The wording of the letter is quite formal, which is why I advise doing a gentle build up to that point – talking to neighbours about the idea, getting some on board, having an open meeting so people can air their views and ideas, and then letting everyone know what you, collectively, are planning to do. Once you have started consulting neighbours, be prepared to hear some concerns raised, but most of all, focus on the benefits this will bring to the street.
And even if you don’t go on to organise playing out sessions, the chances are you will have met some new neighbours along the way, and if you do apply for regular playing out dates, the benefits are great, and long lasting.
If you are inspired to take small or bigger actions on your street and would like support contact firstname.lastname@example.org