Alison Stenning has been running a play street in North Shields for almost six years, as well as supporting other residents to run play streets across North Tyneside through play.meet.street. She also researches play on streets at Newcastle University. In this blog she shares the joy on her street at being able to play out again.
We were lucky enough in North Tyneside to get the council’s go ahead to restart play streets from 27 May, with certain safeguards in place. In that time, we’ve seen all our regular, established streets restart and 20 new streets get in touch, consult, and start their playing out journeys.
Building on neighbourly connections
Many of these new streets are ones that had created new connections during the pandemic, whether that was through a street party or just everyone getting to know each other better by being at home and on the street more. For each of these streets, there was something about play streets that allowed them to feel a bit more positive about what we’ve all been through and hopeful about the new relationships on the street, for neighbours of all ages. And, of course, planning for a summer of play has been important too, giving the streets’ children something to look forward to and enjoy, as the summer began.
The street came alive again
On my street I’d arranged to play out the first Sunday we could – 23 May. I think I’d been looking forward to it more than my ten year old daughter! I’d worked so hard to get our play streets up and running again and it was so good, so rewarding to start playing and hanging out together again.
Of course, there was a little bit of anxiety about how it would feel – we’d only played out once since February 2020 – and the loose rules we’d agreed with the council maybe felt a tiny bit restrictive, but as soon as we got out and started playing all those concerns drifted away.
The children picked up where they’d left off and the adults seemed so happy to be able to mill around and chat. The weather was good to us and the street became alive again with chalking, scooting, skating, hopscotch, slaloms, bubbles, skipping and hula-hooping, not to mention tea drinking, catching up and laughing.
We’ve now played out three times and each session’s been fantastic. One thing I’ve noticed is more neighbours coming out to play. We’ve seen children and adults who we’ve got to know through our ever-expanding Facebook group – and we’ve been able to welcome a good handful of families who moved in during the last year.
It’s a real joy to be playing out again
Somehow these new faces have shifted the dynamic a bit, in a good way. More than I remember seeing before the pandemic, I’ve watched children of really varied ages playing together. My ten year old daughter had befriended a couple of three year old boys, and her friend has taken to watching over an 18-month old neighbour. In our second session, children aged from 13 to 3 raced around a chalked course on foot, bike and scooter. All the children have grown up in the last year, experienced long periods on their own or just with siblings; maybe somehow they value the potential friends on their street more.
I’ve heard similar stories from our established streets too, all feeling a real joy to be playing out again, reanimating their streets with play and chat, and looking forward to the summer. We heard a lot about relationships being rekindled and new neighbours drawn in.
Of course, we’ve missed a few neighbours through self-isolation – but we’ve also heard of children being released from isolation straight into a play street session, and revelling in the freedom and return to ordinary life. And one of the enormous benefits of play streets is that they happen on our doorsteps with trusted neighbours – on my street, one child was able to come out and play while their siblings had to isolate, and mum could keep an eye out from the window whilst we kept a closer eye on the street.
For myself, my daughter, my street, and all our play streets, I’d been so excited to get started again – and I haven’t been disappointed. There’s such a joy in playing out. As the Summer of Play campaign suggests, the hopes we have for play now and in the coming months really are about fun, friends and freedom.
Organising a play street is highly rewarding and we have loads of resources to make it as easy as possible. If you are inspired to get a play street started on your street, check out our four simple steps videos.