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Dr William Bird on how play streets improve children’s health and wellbeing

posted this in Children's play, health and wellbeing, Play Streets on 27/01/2022

In January 2022 we held a webinar where we spoke to Dr William Bird about the importance of playing out for children’s health and wellbeing. Here are some highlights:

“Once you get to a point where children have been pushed back indoors, you’ve lost the soul of a city completely.”

“(The play streets intervention) is absolutely perfect.”

“The reason why I think (the model of) play streets is so strong, and why it should become the norm, almost should become the default for any community – first of all, it’s local – and what we know from our Beat the Streets analysis is that children from the most deprived areas don’t move out of a very small area. So they’ll be ‘locked into’ a housing estate – they’ll go to their school, they’ll go the shop, they’ll go to their house – it’s that triangle. And they won’t cross the main road which is a completely different territory, or they won’t cross over the bridge to another area of town because that could be a million miles away. So whatever you do, if you put a leisure centre somewhere, the chances are they’re not going to go there because it’s out of their area. So something really local – and what’s more local than outside your house? – that has to be where you start.”

“The second thing is that it brings the community together, and there’s no doubt that that community strength and wellbeing gives a resilience, it lifts everyone up…and that strength of community is absolutely vital.”

“(Thirdly) …you’re outdoors in a neutral environment…if you go to a leisure centre, or if you go to any environment which is indoors, it’s very often owned by someone else. There’s a hierarchy – when we’re indoors we create a little bit of a hierarchy. When you’re outdoors, it’s neutral space – everyone is equal, and that’s important.”

“The 4th thing is, it’s free, and you can just do it. So any barriers like ‘oh we can’t afford that, we can’t get the bus, we don’t have transport’ etc, that all disappears.”

“The fifth thing, which I think is really important, is the council now are letting go and giving permission to the community to do their thing. And that – for all councils, anyone listening from a council (on this call) – I remember talking about to Essex County Council, & the guy said – I think it was the Chief Exec, or the Deputy Chief Exec – “Do you know, the best thing we can do is let go. But it’s the hardest thing for our colleagues to do, because you feel that you’ve got to be the person who makes that change, and you want to make that change…but letting go is really important, & trust.” So letting go and giving trust to a community to do something, and then let them own it.”

“The other thing is scalability, this can be done anywhere, and it can be done really easily, and there’s no reason and no barriers – except often bureaucracy – why it can’t be done anywhere. And we’ve just got to get rid of that bureaucracy whenever it gets in the way. It should become the default, and it should become perhaps once a year, start with a day where every single street in the whole country is closed off, and let’s build on that and keep it going.”

“It’s almost like saying, you know, this is what the world could look like. And even if it’s just for 3 hours or 6 hours, or for us (at Beat the Street) it’s only a few weeks, at the end of it you’ve created an opportunity for people to say ‘Actually why don’t we carry on doing this?’ or ‘I’ve seen the world in a different way now’. So it doesn’t have to be long, but once people see the world in a different way, that can change their behaviour. So the opportunity and obviously the motivation becomes stronger, because there’s now something to look forward to, which they haven’t seen before.”

Want to find out more?

Watch the webinar

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