Here are some Frequently Asked Questions from people wanting to organise playing out sessions on their streets. Click on the question to go to the answer:
Applying for Road Closures:
Responsibility and Liability:
There are loads! See our full 10 Good Reasons for street play. These are the ‘big’ benefits, but you will find many smaller, less obvious ones through doing it, for both children and adults on your street.
Playing Out is a not-for-proﬁt organisation set up by parents to activate street play across the UK. We are a small team based in Bristol and give peer-support ‘on the ground’ to Bristol residents as well as offering practical help and support for residents across the UK. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 0117 953 7167 or drop in to see us.
The term ‘Play Street’ originally referred to inner-city streets, which, from the 1930s onwards, were designated by the authorities to serve as informal playgrounds during certain hours. See London Play’s website for more history on play streets and what they are doing now to redevelop play streets in the capital. An updated version of the legislation used to do this is still being used by some councils to enable regular road closures for play, particularly in London.
The term ‘Play Streets’ is now also being used interchangeably with ‘playing out’ or ‘temporary play streets’ to refer to the current movement of resident-led temporary road closures for play, which we see primarily as a step towards street play being a normal, everyday activity for children everywhere.
Applying for Road Closures:
See here for how to get started. A lot will depend on where you are in the country, as different councils have different policies around how to close your road for play, but you should be able to at least do a one-off session in the first instance (see below).
We started in Bristol by doing one-off sessions using the council’s ‘street party’ application form – not actually having a full street party, but using the procedure to close the road for play. Bristol-based organisation Streets Alive may be able to help if you are having difficulties with your council’s street party application procedure.
After the success of our initial one-off sessions, Bristol City Council got behind the idea and brought about a change in policy to allow streets to close regularly. The same has now happened in Hackney and several other places. Getting political support is key, so invite local politicians along to your early sessions to see the benefits for themselves. Finding the ‘right’ person in the council is key – this could be a councillor, or an officer from Highways, Community Development, Public Health or Play/Children’s Services, so don’t be put off by an initial negative response – try another route. We are currently developing guidance about this so contact us for more information.
In Bristol, the council has developed a policy letting residents apply for a Temporary Play Street Order (TPSO), which allows you to close your street to through-traffic up to once a week. Residents can still drive in and out at walking speed, escorted by volunteer ‘stewards’. Quite a few other councils are now offering versions of this policy, allowing residents to decide which days and hours to apply for, whereas others offer fixed dates through the year. TPSOs usually last for a year, after which you need to re-apply.
Some other places (particularly in London) are trying to bring back more traditional permanent ‘play streets’ with fixed signage. In theory, this model could allow for more frequent road closures, even every day, although residents would still need to make sure this happened safely. For more info, see London Play
In our view, it doesn’t matter too much which legal route the council chooses to use, as long as residents can cheaply, easily and safely open their street for play on a regular basis.
The main thing you need to do before applying is to talk to your neighbours about the idea, perhaps by holding an informal meeting, and make sure you have enough support and have tried to address any concerns.
In Bristol the council needs six weeks to process applications, and most other councils have a similar timeframe. In Hackney there are four applications deadlines each year (the last for 2014 is 1 July). Our general advice is that it can take about three months to get something started. Once you have worked out how often you will be closing, how much of the street and got others on board, you will need to go through the formal application process.
In Bristol, the council provide a standard ‘consultation letter’ for you to photocopy and put through all the doors on your the street. If your council doesn’t provide this, we would still recommend doing this as a way to make sure everyone feels consulted – you are welcome to use or adapt this template consultation letter. We would also recommend adding a friendly note to neighbours to go with the formal consultation. There is an example here.
Each local authority will have a slightly different process. You will need to search our map to find out where your local council is up to and who to contact. If there is not a policy in place or the council does not have a process that would allow you to play out, contact us for advice.
All residents and businesses within the proposed closure area should be consulted – usually with a letter through their doors – and have a chance to raise any objections or concerns. You may also want to let others know who are outside the closure area but might be affected, although you are not obliged to do this.
It is good to ensure you have invited and listened to as many opinions on the street as possible and tried to address any concerns raised in an open and neighbourly way (see possible concerns). Do contact us if you’d like some advice and support with this as it can be very unsettling dealing with strong opposition from neighbours.
Councils will each have their own policies around responding to objections and it is worth finding out what this is in advance.
In Bristol and Hackney, objections received by the council will be carefully considered and responded to. The council’s aim will be to attempt to resolve or address any objections so that the sessions can go ahead. A street may occasionally be refused permission if a lot of people object or if ‘material’ objections are unresolvable but this is very unlikely.
There are streets playing out in many different areas of the country. Please see our map if you’d like to get touch with someone local to you who would be happy to invite you along to their street and share their experience. If there’s no one else playing out near you, you are welcome to visit us in Bristol!
Yes. This is sometimes a good idea where you are unsure about it or where you know some residents are unsure about the idea. In Bristol, you can do a one-off session using the TPSO form or apply under the street party procedure. You can reapply for a second TPSO during the same year if you then wish to do a regular session. If you are unsure about the best route to do this, do contact the council to check the process in your area. See our map or Local Authority Directory for the contact information you need.
The main differences are
- Residents don’t have to move parked cars and can still drive in and out of the street
- Road closure is ‘stewarded’
- Emphasis on free, child-led play (not organised activities)
- Short period of time (1-3 hrs)
- Potential to become a normal, regular part of street life
But it still has some of the benefits of a street party in terms of neighbours getting to know each other and the street feeling safer and friendlier as a result. Many streets in Bristol have both regular playing out sessions and an annual street party, which feels like more of a special event for the whole street. See Streets Alive for more information about holding street parties.
We estimate it is about 20 hours of ‘work’ for the main organiser, from organising an initial meeting to putting on the first session. This might sound a lot, but it is spread over several months and can be shared between several people. Also quite a lot of it involves talking to your neighbours and might be enjoyable! Give yourself lots of time, pace yourself and just do as much or as little as you want to. We have had a lot of feedback from people testifying to how worthwhile and rewarding they have felt their efforts to be. Do get in touch if you have any questions or concerns, need some moral support, or just to talk things through
Within the limits set by your council, each street needs to consider what would suit them best. The closure times, days and frequency will depend on the availability of residents, organisers and children and may take into account other factors e.g. if there is a church or school on your road. Some streets close for an hour or so after school on a weekday, others close at a weekend (this means you can potentially close earlier and for longer). Streets close weekly, fortnightly or monthly. You may want to vary what you do at different times of the year e.g. closing less frequently in the winter, or at weekends over the winter and weekdays in the summer. You will need to consider how many people are likely to be involved: you may want to close for three hours but it may be more practical to close for an hour so that you are relying on fewer stewards. You may also want to take into account other factors such as organised after-school activities (if a large proportion of children go to scouts on a Monday, it may not be the best day to play out!).
Many streets play out all year around: experiencing different weather and seasons is one of the great benefits of outdoor play. In the winter, it may also be easier and more attractive to play out on the street for a short time, rather than trek to the park! If you are doing after-school sessions, you might want to keep it really short (even 45 minutes is a worthwhile run-around) as evenings draw in and it gets cold for the adults standing around, or you could switch to weekend sessions through the winter and do it earlier in the day. It is good to keep it going if you can (without forcing it!), to maintain the sense of it being ‘normal’ and regular. You could also think about making the winter sessions special in some way, to maintain enthusiasm. Some streets have had small fires in a ‘fire wok’ or brought out hot chocolate to share. Others have encouraged children to bring out torches or had mass ‘lightsaber’ battles. If carrying on after dark you need to make extra sure your stewards and signage are reflective and visible to cars.
Definitely! We have found that children generally love the chance to get their wellies on and play out in the rain (and again are more likely to do this right outside their front door, rather than going to the park). As long as the stewards are happy to stand outside (with umbrellas!) and you have addressed any additional risks, there is no reason to cancel. If it is very windy, this might be more of a problem – in particular you would need to make sure any signage was properly secured.
No! Playing out sessions should be open to everyone and not prescribed. We have found that older children (twelve and above) are usually less keen to be in such an adult-supervised environment and hopefully have more freedom to wander further afield anyway. In terms of younger children, as long as they can move, they can play! Even babies and toddlers tend to get a lot out of it and it is a great way for children of different ages to interact. Often children from different schools get a chance to meet and play as well.
This might be a problem in terms of closing the road, but check with your council as they might even make an exception for a one-off or less frequent closure, especially at a weekend. Otherwise, there may well be other things you could think of doing to enable more playing out and a better sense of ‘belonging’ on your street. Have a look at Easy and Effortless Things for inspiration. ‘Pavement play’ is one model some streets follow, where residents just agree a particular time to come out and semi-supervise children playing out on the pavement. If speeding traffic is a problem, you might want to think about trying to get some traffic-calming measures put in, or have a ‘20’s Plenty’ campaign. We would be very keen to hear of any other ideas you come up with for this situation.
As a minimum, each road closure point needs an official ‘Road Closed’ sign and a physical barrier across the road. Depending on the layout, some roads will also need ‘Road Ahead Closed’ signs to warn drivers they can’t get through and some may need extra barriers such as cones. In Bristol we use cheap plastic bunting to physically span the road and prevent cars and bicycles from coming through unstewarded. Stewards wear high-visibility vests and have whistles to blow when a car is about to come through.
In Bristol, the council has funded road closure ‘kits’ for 100 streets.
If you decide to cancel a session, perhaps due to bad weather or a lack of stewards, you can do so without informing the council. The same applies if you decide to run a shorter session than applied for. For example, if you have been given permission to close from 3-6pm but you decide to play out from 4-5.30pm, that’s fine as long as you are clear with residents that is what you are doing. However, if you wish to change the times or dates from sessions such that your current permission does not cover it, you will need to get in touch with the council and may need to re-apply.
Getting your local newspaper or radio station to come along to a session can be a great way to get people thinking about the issues, spread the idea of playing out and even gain support from the council. However, we have found that there are a few things to consider first. Do contact us if you want to talk it through or have any questions.
Most streets are public highways and public spaces, which is one of the great things about them, so it would be wrong to try to prevent people from coming into the street from elsewhere. This is not about trying to create a ‘gated community’! At the same time, you don’t want to find yourself hosting a public event. As long as you keep publicity only to the street itself and don’t put on any organised activities you are very unlikely to get more than a few ‘extras’ coming along to see what is happening.
The short answer is no – keeping it ‘normal’ is good and powerful, showing that children mainly need space and freedom to play on their doorstep, rather than being shown what to do. In our experience, they need very little in order to make the most of it and will often bring out their own toys, scooters, bikes, rollerskates, hulahoops etc. The street is a great ‘blank canvas’, encouraging children to be creative and make the space their own. Read about the benefits of this kind of free play here.
However, if you want to provide some extra things, pavement chalk, long skipping ropes, hula-hoops and soft balls (to replace hard footballs!) all seem to go down well.
Make sure that any communications and publicity go to all households, not just those with children or those you think will be interested. Start the process with an open meeting for all residents and make it clear that you want this to be something for the whole street, not just young children and their parents. Retired people and students can be particularly useful as stewards and those without children might well appreciate having a way in to the community which they don’t have otherwise.
Responsibility and Liability:
In Bristol, the Temporary Play Street Order form is clear about the responsibilities of the applicant (the person who signs the form):
- To ensure the road closure and re-opening of the road is managed safely and using the correct signage
- To ensure there is no permanent damage to the public highway
- To ensure that parents are aware they are responsible for their own children as on any other day
As the named applicant, you do not need to be present at every session. However, you are still responsible for the points listed. Often, the applicant takes on the role of organiser and ensures stewards are in place, signage is put out etc.
Outside Bristol, you will need to check the responsibilities of the applicant and ensure you are clear and comfortable with them.
The job of the organisers and stewards is to make the space relatively safe by stopping through traffic and ensuring that residents drive at walking speed, not to look after other people’s children. It is worth some effort in advance to ensure that publicity states clearly that parents are responsible for their own children and that, whilst adults around will aim to keep an eye out for any issues, unaccompanied children will not be ‘looked after’.
If you have any real worries about unaccompanied children, either because they seem too young or too irresponsible to be out alone, you should try to talk to their parents. If they have come from outside the street, perhaps give the child a note to take home, politely explaining that the organisers’ job is only to manage traffic and that parents are still fully responsible for their own children. In a friendly way, explain that playing out is a collective community effort and invite the parents to come along to the next session and help steward and/or meet other neighbours.
As long as you are clear that this is an informal event organised by neighbours on their own street, that parents are responsible for their own children and you are not providing organised childcare, there should be no reason to go through this formality. The sessions are simply a way for children to play in a traffic-free street. They may come into contact with neighbours of all ages and this can be a good way to learn about interacting safely and positively with adults in their community. The role of the stewards is simply to make sure the space is safe and not to look after children.
If you are an organisation providing volunteers or playworkers then you need to follow your own safeguarding procedures.
This research is an interesting read on how safeguarding of children can work in an informal community setting.
It is always good to know if one of your neighbours is trained in first aid, or if someone has a particularly good first aid kit, but if a child hurts him or herself, it is up to the parent/carer to treat them, as they would if they were playing in a park or on a pavement.
We strongly advise you to do a simple risk assessment and factor in any particular issues to do with your street. On a hill, for example, children may well take the opportunity to free-wheel on bikes or scooters in a way they wouldn’t when the street is open to cars. If there is an accident, the organisers could be accused of encouraging this behaviour, so you need to think about how to minimize the risk. Clearly stating that parents are responsible for their own children will go some way towards this but you might also need to think about putting other measures in place to keep it safe, such as an agreed start and finish line chalked on the road.
If you have worries about traffic and the particular layout of your street, the council officers dealing with your road closure application should be able to help advise on correct use and placement of signage and barriers to ensure safety. Main roads and bus routes may not be suitable for regular playing out sessions but there may be other things you can do to enable children to play out on the pavement or in nearby spaces, for example.
Some possibilities that worry me are:
- injuries occurring during a session
- damage to property (including council/highways property) during a session
- children being hit by a car outside of session time / closure area
There is always some risk of liability for injuries or damage to property if you organise any event, but if you do a risk assessment and follow the guidance in the Playing Out manual you will go a long way to protect yourself against any potential claim.
Generally speaking you will only have any potential liability for what happens within the closure area and during the session time (or immediately before and after it). Other damage would be too remote.
Finally, remember that not every person who suffers a minor injury or damage to property will necessarily make a claim. Ensure that any injuries that do occur are promptly and supportively dealt with and keep some notes of each one, just in case.
Would Public Liability insurance (either under my own name or a residents’ group) protect me if someone does suffer injury or damage to property?
Most streets currently doing playing out sessions do not have insurance and the cost (between £50-100) can certainly be a show-stopper but it is very much a matter for each street to decide. This is the legal advice we have had:
“If you carry out careful risk assessments and put in place suitable controls you should have nothing to worry about. However, the courts can be very sympathetic to injured people, especially children. Public Liability insurance, that will pay such claims for you, is therefore advisable.”
The named organiser may be liable if the cause of any injury or damage is inherent in the way the event was planned or set up. For example, if you failed to identify a side alley as a potential vehicular access and a car entered by it, causing injury. However, there would probably be no liability if the marshal of an identified point of access absented him or herself against your instructions and the same accident occurred.
The distinction will not matter if you have appropriate Public Liability insurance, since both types of liability would be covered, but generally speaking it is best to be present at an event if at all possible, since you will have the best overview of the whole session and will be best placed to spot if someone is not following the plan. If this is not possible, it is best to appoint someone trustworthy in your place.
As long as you have followed the proper procedures around road closure and stewarding, almost certainly the car driver would be held liable in this instance. There was a case in Bristol in 2014 where a car driver entered the road closure at speed. Although fortunately no one was injured, the driver was convicted of dangerous driving.
If the council includes an ‘indemnity clause’ when agreeing the road closure, does that absolve them of any liability?
It is not possible for the council to exclude liability for personal injury or death caused by its own negligence. For example, if there was a broken paving slab for which the council would have been liable when the road was open, they will still be liable during the closure. However the clause is effective to ensure they don’t acquire any liability for anything that results solely from the closure and/or the session.
What action can I take to minimise risk and liability for any accidents occurring during or following a session?
It is well worth doing a risk assessment and involving others in this so as many people as possible are fully aware of the risks and responsibility is shared. Use the guidance in our manual and steward briefing and follow any instructions or guidance given by your local authority on closing the road safely. Finally, ensure everyone involved is aware of any risks and responsibilities, especially parents and stewards.
I live in a cul-de-sac where children do play out but I’d like to make it safer without it being too formal. Any suggestions?
If children already play out naturally that is fantastic and you need to be careful not to give the message there is anything wrong with this, whilst also making it safer and encouraging more children to play out. Some cul-de-sacs have managed to get the council to agree to informal ‘Children Playing’ signage to warn car drivers to go carefully. Some do a version of ‘playing out’ sessions without a formal road closure, just having stewards in place to walk cars in and out safely. One Bristol resident in a cul-de-sac left a long skipping rope permanently tied to a lamppost and found that brought people of all ages out into the street to play together.
There are many! Visit Easy and Effortless Things or join the Facebook group to see what people have done on other streets. Anything you can do to get to know your neighbours better or start being out on your street more often will help to build the conditions for street play.