In July the Playing Out team and a group of Bristol street organisers took part in the first playing out stewarding and signage workshop. It’s now two years since Bristol residents have been able to play out regularly under the Temporary Play Street Order policy put in place by the council and many streets are now starting year three of weekly, fortnightly or monthly sessions. The time seemed right to look at some of the issues and experiences that have come up for street organisers and stewards.
The steward’s role is key to ensuring each playing out session is safe – that children stay in the closed area and vehicles are guided in or out. And happily most sessions run smoothly, with drivers listening to stewards and respecting the fact that a playing out session is in progress. But occasionally stewards have had difficult experiences with hostile drivers or cyclists and handling those situations calmly and confidently can be hard.
The workshop session was facilitated by Jon Beedell of the Desperate Men street theatre company and gave an opportunity to role play and think about how to respond to tricky situations. Although it sounds obvious, one of the key things I took away was the importance of your own approach. Simply by taking an open and positive attitude you can hopefully diffuse most situations before they escalate.
Smile, make eye contact (as much as you can through a windscreen or car window), empathise and try to couch your responses positively. You might say to a resident wanting to park their car. “You can’t come in to park unless you let me walk ahead to stop children getting hurt – do you understand?” certainly clear but somewhat uncompromising and aggressive. A more empathetic “To get you safely to where you need to park, I’ll walk in front of you to ensure the road is clear – OK?” conveys the same message but hopefully get a better response and is more neighbourly too.
It’s ok to feel a little nervous about your role as a steward – you are after all the person standing between children playing and traffic. Try not to let this show through and instead think through how you will explain what’s happening to any drivers who approach and how you will respond to them.
Remember that behind the wheel (or in the bike saddle) is another person and on another day that could be you. You can’t know where that person is coming from or what else is going on in their life. Maybe they’ve had a terrible day or got other worries on their mind and any grumpiness isn’t necessarily directed at the playing out session and almost certainly not at you personally.
We are hoping to run another stewarding session in Bristol but would like to hear any tips you have for stewarding and also what you think would be useful. Do leave a comment here, email us or post on our Facebook group. And don’t forget our stewards’ briefing has advice and clear information to help anyone donning the high-viz and acting as a steward during a playing out session.