It’s now more than six years since my neighbour Amy and I scratched our heads about the problem of our children’s lack of freedom to play outside and had the crazy notion to close our street to cars one Monday after school. Since then, our toddlers have become tweenagers and playing out has become an established, if sporadic, part of life on Greville Road. The highs and lows of trying to keep this going over the years have also been an essential source of learning and inspiration for me personally in what has unexpectedly become a role supporting resident-led street play across the country.
The last time I was stewarding it occurred to me that some of the little things I’ve learnt during the past six years might be useful to share. So here they are – not pearls of wisdom so much as marbles of random thought!
- Small can be beautiful. Keeping the traffic-free space for play small and manageable can make the experience more relaxed for stewards and makes it easier for residents to park on the street.
- Short can be sweet. Sometimes if the weather is dodgy, you’re tired, over-stretched or there just aren’t enough stewards, a 45 minute burst is all you can face and that’s fine (and usually worth it).
- Don’t be a martyr. Make sure you share the load and responsibility. A rota for organising as well as for stewarding is a very good thing.
- The more the merrier. Playing out days are a brilliant time to invite school friends over for a (NB. not my favourite term) ‘play date’. The friends get to have a taste of street play and you get brownie points to cash-in on another day when you really need it. Likewise, it can be a very low-cost, low-effort option for birthday parties!
- Stay ‘on it’. Just because your street has been playing out for a while, don’t get too laid-back and think that everyone knows the score. Any new steward needs to be properly briefed and all residents wanting to drive in need to agree to be walked in.
- Keep your front door closed. This is a personal one but, for me, I want my kids to make use of the time to be outside and get a run around and not disappear inside with a friend, as they are wont to do, especially now they are older. They can always do that once the road is open to cars!
- Have faith. Sometimes I’ve been out stewarding a completely empty street at 4pm, feeling like a bit of a wally, but by 4.30 the street has been full of kids. It can take time to build momentum so don’t be too easily disheartened.
- It’s not all about the kids. I’ve had some really honest, interesting conversations with my neighbours whilst stewarding. There’s something about standing in the street together, with most of your attention on cars and kids, which lends itself to getting to know people in a way that doesn’t happen through residents’ meetings or putting the bins out.
- People can change. Nearly all of the sceptics and opponents on our street when we first started have come around over the years and one or two have become quietly supportive in their own ways, so try not to give up on neighbourliness in the face of grumpiness!
- They don’t stay young forever. My daughter (14) is now more likely to help steward or scout for babysitting work than to ‘play’, whilst my 10-year old would sometimes rather take himself off to the skate park and hang out with the big kids. I feel really glad that they have both grown up playing out on their own street and am sure it has helped them gain the independence they now have. Hopefully they also know they can change the world!
Do you have things to share from your experiences over time of playing out where you live? We’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below or email us to tell us about them.