Rob Schafer lives in Hertfordshire and began organising playing out on his street in 2013. He has gone on to build support with other residents across his county and make the case for street play to his local council.
If you could take time out to develop playing out in your area – what would you do with it? That is the question I faced when an opportunity to apply for a small grant from Playing Out came up. I had already successfully lobbied for our street to be Hertfordshire’s first playing out street, inspired after a neighbour organised a Jubilee street party.
My street in Tring went on to have playing out sessions once a month on a Sunday afternoon, with Hertfordshire County Council giving us permission initially for a pilot period of 18 months, with a review after six months.
When I thought about applying for the grant, the future of playing out on my own street was far from certain, with the 18-month pilot about to run out. But I had been able to hand over responsibility for running the sessions and organising stewards to neighbours. It had boosted my confidence to be able to step back from being the main organiser and showed how much other residents believed in the idea. We also had enjoyed amazing support from our local councillors from the start (take a bow Nick Hollinghurst, Chris Townsend and Nigel Nutkins).
I applied to Playing Out in Bristol for a grant to cover some of the time, kit and expenses I would need to make a real impact in Hertfordshire, and move beyond what was happening on my own street.
So what did I do?
To try and launch a new initiative in a time of budget cuts, we needed people with time and skills, so I started recruiting at Transition Town talks. Cue Lesley, Nicola and later Kirstie who all brought a huge amount of energy, contacts and crucial public health knowledge to the Hertfordshire activators team.
To give us the materials to publicise and lobby, I produced our own short playing out film shot by the amazing Hannah Veale, and backed this up with a professional looking briefing document for decision makers.
As a team we lobbied hard to get the attention of all the key decision makers within the local authority: public health (the most obvious source of funding), highways (who would have to come up with and cost an application procedure) and local councillors in the two areas where streets were ready to play.
We also needed to get the next wave of streets geared up and ready so that if and when an application procedure was created, there would actually be streets that would apply. Cue more road shows at eco fairs, community events and more and more talking to anyone who would listen. Apologies to my wife and most of my friends!
During all of this I had amazing support from the team at Playing Out in Bristol. I had to balance taking my own initiative with the fact that I was representing the organisation. It was my idea to send everthing I produced to them for input and sign-off. And when I needed specific facts, evidence and contacts I could get them. Sometimes I just needed someone to talk through solutions when we had got a bit stuck. And I used everything that the Playing Out team developed to give our case maximum authority; the logo, the national website, the video clips and the quotes about Playing Out by national figures.
As I write this we have just had our two-year celebration of monthly playing out on my street. The town mayor cut the cake and played street cricket, and the future of playing out on my street is safe, for as long as the amazing residents want it to happen. And as the jigsaw pieces come together at county level, there is every hope that we will be seeing the next small wave of playing out streets in Hertfordshire in the next year. Fundamentally everyone can see what a brilliant idea it is.
Apart from the main objective of getting Hertfordshire County Council to launch a positive street play policy, I also spent time interviewing Tring residents of all ages. I gathered their favourite memories of play, and their suggestions for what could be done to improve things, not just to promote playing out but also to seed some thinking about parks, youth clubs, adventure playgrounds and other places for play.
At my wilder moments I felt the urge to lobby and campaign until my town transformed into Vauben – the suburb of Freiburg in southern Germany – where cars are largely absent from residential streets, quality of life is significantly higher and children do of course play safely outside their houses. Or until we had our own version of ‘The Land’ – the ground breaking adventure playground in Wrexham (view a short film about it here). As I prepare to return to my day job (as a GP in the local addiction service) I have to accept that it may not be me who makes this happen. But it could be you, where you live. Have a think.
Rob applied for local activator funding which aims to support people who are keen to focus beyond their own streets on building playing out support and activity. The next round of local activator funding will be launched on Monday 16th November 2015. More information will be on the Playing Out Facebook group but please get in touch if you are interested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org