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Ingrid Skeels

From play streets to parliament – making the case for children to play out

posted this in Activism, Children's play, health and wellbeing, Street Space on 25/01/2024

Alice Ferguson and Ingrid Skeels, Playing Out Directors, standing in front of the UK Houses of Parliament

This week Playing Out presented oral evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into children and the built environment, held by the select committee for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and proposed by us and fellow advocates Tim Gill, Dinah Bornat and Fields in Trust.

The committee wanted to hear more about the importance of outdoor space to children’s health and wellbeing and “to find out more about how children and young people experience outdoor spaces in towns, cities and rural areas across England. What policy interventions from local and central government could help to deliver streets, estates, villages, neighbourhoods and parks that enable kids to enjoy active outdoor lifestyles and engage with others?”

So our co-founder Alice Ferguson, alongside other brilliant expert witnesses, told them, with evidence:

  • Children’s physical and mental health is at crisis point, especially for those facing inequalities.
  • Being outside with friends is vital for physical activity, learning new skills, socialisation, independence, sense of belonging, resilience – and happiness.
  • Space close to home – doorstep play – is essential for this.
  • Children themselves want to play out. And parents want their children to have more outdoor play and freedom. They are worried about their children’s health and happiness.
  • Play streets and the growth of the movement to 1600 communities shows this, as well as demonstrating the huge and important benefits of safe space to play.

What are the barriers to this?

We told them: the biggest barrier to children being outside – gradually worsened since our growing up – is the environment itself:

All these barriers contribute to parent fear and a culture change whereby children are far more indoors, inactive, not with friends, and on screens.

Are children affected equally?

All children are affected. As ever, children with the least are affected the most: no gardens, in social housing, no money for extra clubs or classes, no car to get to destination parks, no adult available to take them. And this is reflected in physical activity levels and health outcomes which are “terrifying” for some of the poorest children, according to the Royal College of Paediatrics.

What needs to change?

We collectively said: if we can address the environmental factors and help children to play out and socialise close to home, it would be a game changer for children’s health and wellbeing, as well as hugely beneficial for communities of all ages.

But children’s needs are rarely if at all taken into account in planning and the built environment – or in fact anywhere outside of education or social care. They are invisible.

This needs to change. And not just in planning guidance. It needs a whole government, cross departmental approach to consider children’s needs in everything from public health to transport, housing and levelling up, led by a cabinet minister for children. Children also must become a statutory equalities group so they have to be considered and consulted in decision-making –amazingly, the Equalities Act only protects children from discrimination in relation to employment.

All this would ensure that children – without voice or vote but approximately 22% of the population, and the adults of tomorrow – have their needs taken into account, so that they can grow up healthy and happy. And children rely on us, the adults in the room – especially rooms where decisions get made – to make it a reality.

Many adults are trying to do this – from parents to local authorities to housing associations, as the Playing Out movement demonstrates. But it can’t be left to goodwill. It needs vastly more government action to ensure it – and we spelled out policy changes that would help.

A moment to seize

It’s nearly 15 years since Playing Out began on one street in Bristol. Since then, tens of thousands of parents have taken action to change things, 100 local authorities have put policies in place, many of them pioneering, and through this nearly 50,000 children have played out regularly with more than a million extra playing out hours. It’s thanks to all of this – to all of you – and all the many brilliant people that have been part of founding, building and advising Playing Out that we have got to this moment: in that room in parliament this week – speaking truth to power.

And more than that, they were listening. They asked good questions. We were heard. Ian Byrne MP tweeted afterwards:

“One of the most powerful sessions I’ve been part of since joining @Commons LUHC. Safe and healthy space for our children and young people are vital for their health and the future of this nation. We need a Secretary of State for Children.”

The wind is changing… The case for things to change for children is building, and now is the moment to keep pushing!

The next evidence session focussing on urban design/planning will be in February and information updated on the Inquiry web page, from where it can also be watched live or on-line.

Alice gave evidence alongside Helen Griffiths, CEO of Fields in Trust;  Gemma Hyde, Projects and Policy Officer of the Town and Country Planning Association and Harriet Grant, a freelance journalist who writes about play and children’s rights for the Guardian.

You can watch the whole evidence session below, Alice first speaks at 57.30


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