This week our street celebrated a year of playing out, and it got me thinking about how far we have come in those 12 months. Our Playing Out journey began when me and Emma, another mum on my street, started to get to know each other. We had spoken before; I helped when she was locked out of her house once, and our families had bumped into each other at events around Bristol and we always said ‘hi’ to each other. But we started to chat more often when I noticed her sons playing out on the small patch of green space on our street opposite her house, and so would take my daughter over. Emma and I would have a cup of tea and a chat while the kids played. One day, whilst we sat on the green we both mentioned Playing Out and thought it would be a great way to bring the street together. As there were so many kids on the street of a similar age, we thought other families would be keen to be involved.
In order to gauge interest, we met on the green space at the time we thought could work for shutting the road (Friday 3.30pm – 5.30pm). We did this two weeks in a row, making sure we spoke to neighbours, asking if the time suited and if they would be up for helping. Everyone seemed keen so we felt the process was off to a positive start. Emma set up an email account for our street and we wrote a friendly covering letter and sent it to everyone, along with the council form. Our kids helped deliver the letter, which was a great bonding session! We got two email replies, both fully supportive which was reassuring, so we sent off the application form to the council and had our first session on Friday 13th June (Friday the 13th seemed appropriate!)
Residents and their children, our local Playing Out representative and friends from local streets all came along to that first session. We brought out toys from our houses (football nets, tents, balls) the kids bought bikes and scooters. We baked cakes to keep the neighbours sweet and opened a fresh box of chalk.
One year on kids still bring scooters, bikes and balls, we have a very old battered box of chalk but don’t go to so much effort with bringing out toys. We also definitely don’t do cake – healthy snacks mean fewer tantrums and less worry about how much your child has eaten while you are stewarding. We didn’t actually manage to shut the road for our anniversary as had planned a party on the green and were all running late. But the kids played together while parents sorted food, and we enjoyed a wonderful evening sitting on the green space, welcoming new neighbours and enjoying each other’s company and home cooked food (and we did make an exception for birthday cake)!
The most noticeable difference a year on is that we are all friends now more than neighbours. We did have a few renditions of “Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours” at the party!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all been plain sailing; there was an incident with an angry resident which resulted in us contacting the local police. It wasn’t during a playing out session, but was upsetting for the children and adults on our street and shook their confidence. And even though we felt we’d all settled into a rhythm of regular street play, we realised you never know what to expect when one afternoon a resident drove straight past the barrier on a motorbike. Thankfully our stewarding was alert and we managed that situation. We still have grumpy residents who haven’t objected but are just unhelpful. We struggle for stewards every week, and it’s still the same core people who make it possible. However, these few negatives are far outweighed by the positives; even if we don’t close the road the kids play anyway while the parents chat. And in the case where the police were involved we have been fully supported by Playing Out and the local Police Community Support Officers, who made a point of coming to our sessions for about a month after the incident.
Our street has come on a huge journey since that first session. Before we started playing out, the green space was used as a dog toilet or a short cut. Now there is a swing, basketball net and a chalked on goal. Every day I see a child playing there – and not always a child from our street. Playing out has changed our street into a space where it is ok and safe for kids to play. It’s also made me feel more empowered about the place I live in and has inspired me to become more involved in the local community and take ownership for the place that I live. I have loved our first year of playing out and can’t wait to see what the next year brings. I know it will involve chalk!
Kate’s street has featured in some media coverage during their first year of playing out. You can see a feature on ITV West here.