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Playing Out has its roots in discussions amongst like-minded parents in South Bristol. Our neighbourhood is close to the city centre, with mostly terraced housing, few green spaces and busy roads.
As our children grew up, we started to feel frustrated that their freedom to play out was so restricted, mainly because of the traffic that dominated local streets. Neighbours Alice Ferguson and Amy Rose hit on an idea that would both provide a temporary solution and start to change things more deeply. They knew you could apply to have a street party – why not use this procedure to simply close the street to traffic one day after school, giving over the space to children?
The first ‘playing out’ session happened on Alice and Amy’s street in June 2009. While neighbours looked out for cars and chatted, around 30 children of all ages played in the street together as naturally as if they did it every day. Adults were amazed at the number of children, neighbours got to know each other, there was a new sense of ‘our space’, and everyone agreed it was a brilliantly simple idea.
Encouraged by this success, they applied for a small amount of funding and supported five other local streets to trial the model. They also developed guidance materials, made a film and set up the early version of this website to help and inspire others. Read their report here.
The idea – and conversations around it – quickly spread. We received emails and calls from residents, councils, organisations and experts in the field of children and play, including Tim Gill, a leading childhood/play expert, who said, “I think this is the most exciting, visionary initiative I’ve heard about for the last decade or more”.
With support from The Funding Network we took the Playing Out idea to Oxford in early 2011. This was followed by a flurry of national media coverage, including features on Radio 4’s PM, Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show and ITV Tonight. Within a couple of weeks, we had responded to over 100 enquiries from people wanting to get their own streets ‘playing out’ all over the UK.
It was clear that there was a real demand for what we were doing, so in July 2011 Playing Out was registered as a Community Interest Company with an aim to support resident-led street play across the UK, with the four parents who had supported it since the beginning in their own time as Directors.
Later the same year, together with Tim Gill and Dr Angie Page, we met with senior officials from the Department of Health to discuss government support for street play. Then in September 2011, Bristol City Council launched the Temporary Play Street Order (TPSO) pilot, allowing residents to open their streets for play up to 3 hours a week.
During the year, more national press resulted in over 300 enquiries from residents, professionals and councils across the UK and a pilot evaluation by Bristol University found that playing out sessions significantly increased children’s time spent outdoors and their physical activity levels.
By September 2012, 17 Bristol streets had applied for regular playing out sessions involving around 500 children and 200 adults. Bristol City Council established the TPSO as ongoing policy, setting a precedent for other councils to follow. Read the report here.
Discussions with the Department for Health led to funding to support street play over 3 years (2013-16), in partnership with Play England, London Play and the University of Bristol, with Playing Out providing a hub for residents and growing the national grassroots movement.
By the end the funding, over 400 street communities had started playing out regularly, directly benefitting around 12,000 children.
We have continued providing light-touch support and growing the national grassroots movement. By the end of 2022, over 1,500 streets had played out regularly, over 100+ local authority areas, with tens of thousands of children and adults benefitting. Our latest numbers are here. We aim to keep growing the movement and supporting the model until it is completely normal and acceptable for residents to make use of this so children can play out. Ultimately, we want children to be free to play out wherever they live.
Whilst the playing out idea has now gone national (and international!) we continue to be deeply rooted in Bristol as a ‘lab’ for new ideas and learning – for example, working with residents and community organisations to enable playing out in high-rise estates where people are facing the most disadvantage and co-facilitating the Bristol Child Friendly City project. We are also increasingly defending and speaking out over children’s right to play. You can read a report of the work we did across Bristol in 2015 and 2016 here. Nationally, we will keep supporting existing and new ‘area activators’ as a way of embedding the playing out idea in other towns and cities across the UK. Other exciting developments include working with housing associations and architects to enable play-friendly estates and linking with like-minded organisations to lobby for policy supporting children’s freedom to play out.
During 2017, three reports were published showing the impact of the playing out model for children’s health and for communities, including in areas where people are facing the most disadvantage. A BBC News video about us also went ‘viral’, with 10million views in the first few weeks, showing the level of interest in the issue of children’s freedom to play out.
Throughout all this, our vision remains the same: that ALL children are free to play out where they live.