Jo Chesterman, a street organiser in the St George area of Bristol, charts the many changes on her street which have happened through playing out…
It’s been nearly two years since we started playing out sessions in our street, and these are my reflections on the many differences it’s made.
One of the first and most visible differences is that there is more street play. For me, the ‘success’ is not only busy playing out sessions, but the growth of informal street play, and in the second year of playing out this noticeably changed. During the summer, once they’d been fed and watered, every evening my kids were out on the street and this always attracted others to come out and play. If they spotted a head whizzing by on a scooter or a bike, that was it – we had to go and join in! My son will spend five minutes in the garden before getting bored or restless, but will easily stay out playing in the street for up to two hours so that’s what we do when we can. This means I have no concerns about my kids being active enough!
We now have social gatherings at each other’s house. One or two of these were to discuss playing out and celebrate getting it off the ground, but obviously we didn’t stick to topic and realised it was great to have ‘just adult’ gatherings. Since then we have had a curry and cocktail evening (ten of us were there, which represents a third of the street), and are about to have a clothes swap and nibbles evening, with talk of a regular craft group. For most of us, going into town for a night out is a thing of the past, but we all still enjoy socialising, and being able to do this a few houses down the road is pure joy. We also love going into each other’s houses to compare the layout and décor!
We help each other more with school drop-offs and pick-ups. Both adults and children have all got to know each other better and are more confident about asking each other to help out when illness or conflicting plans come up. As most of us do not have close family living near, this help is invaluable.
Play dates are on the increase in the street as the kids’ friendships have developed through contact during playing out sessions. I let my kids escort their visitors back home after they’ve been to play at our house. This promotes independence and really helps diffuse the “why can’t they stay longer?” pleas at the end!
Babysitting for each other is on the increase. I’ve just arranged for the first time for a neighbour to babysit for me, and the adults knowing the kids better makes this a really practical option. I know that we have all helped each other out in emergency situations too, which crop up. I also have my eye on one or two of the older kids in the street for future paid babysitting. So by getting to know each other trust is building; between the kids, between the adults and kids, and between the adults.
Whilst trickier to measure, I would say that the vibe in the street has softened and become friendlier. There are many more conversations out in the street, rather than just passing ‘hello’s. I had a mission to find out the names of all the people in each house in our street and I was at about 60% when playing out started. This Christmas I hit my target 100%. It really helps when we are writing to update or consult about re-applying because being able to put names on each note can make a difference about how receptive people are (or freaked out that I know who they are!). Our street has a positive local reputation due to the effects of playing out, and we are really proud of that.
We can welcome new arrivals onto our street very easily. A family moved in over the summer during an informal street play session, giving us the opportunity to immediately introduce ourselves and, you guessed it, find out their names! They have joined in with the playing out sessions and even hosted one of our social evenings.
As a family we have embraced playing out, as for me and my partner it’s how we grew up and spent time as kids, and we all benefit from it. As a street we have all directly or indirectly gained, far much more than the effort and time it has taken to organise or steward. There are people in the street who haven’t been positive about playing out or interested in taking part, and I’ve fielded a few tricky conversations along the way. However, we are about to apply for our third year and there have never been official objections to deal with. Now it’s just something that happens. On the whole people are very supportive of playing out in our street and in time my hope is that the need for officialdom abates and people drive carefully in and out of the street as they expect children to be playing. I want to be an old lady, sitting out at the front of my house, watching kids playing and telling them stories about a time when cars were more important than people!