I organised a play street for 4 years between 2014-2018 in St George, Bristol. Our street has only 30 houses and isn’t a through road; a core group of 7 households responded to my initial invitation to be involved in our regular playing out sessions, which we held at varied frequency – weekly, fortnightly and monthly – over the years. Children living in the street aged from 2yrs – 12yrs played out and were sometimes joined by friends from nearby streets. It was a marvellous time, with outdoor play and neighbours chatting becoming the norm again after decades of the street space feeling that it belonged to cars rather than people.
How the culture of the street has changed
It is now 5 years since the formal road closures came to a natural end; children grew up and started to go to the park independently or roam further afield, adults’ working lives changed so they were less available for stewarding. But the biggest reason that the formal sessions ended was because it had become a normal, everyday occurrence for children to play in the street, both on the pavement and on the road, and so the formal stewarding just was not needed anymore. Residents driving in and out of the street had got in the habit of slowing down, and the children could be trusted to be careful in the road and keep an eye out for cars – ‘car coming’ was a regular chant!
My children were 2yrs and 5.5yrs old when the playing out sessions started, and for them it swiftly became absolutely standard that they could play out in the street. They found the street much more fun than being in the garden – chalk, bubbles, skipping ropes, scooters and skates were always by the front door, and during the warmer months the front door was propped open. This started during the years of formal road closures and continued way beyond – in fact, street play is still happening. We have some new little ones who are now becoming part of this, and so it continues.
We have had some side-splitting water fights and hilarious pancake races over the years, and informal street parties for royal occasions – not because we’re all monarchists, but my gosh they get people out of their houses and socialising!
Supportive relationships with neighbours
The core network of families in the street became a sanity saver during the pandemic, and particularly the very challenging lockdowns. When guidelines allowed people to meet up in groups of 6, we started a ‘Friday Driveway’ meet up for adults, and an invitation through each door expanded the street WhatsApp group to include households without children, who had not naturally been drawn to the playing out sessions. Bring your own chair and your own drink and go back into your own house for the loo – literally the easiest hosting you could imagine! We got a chance to connect, share, support and relax each week for a few hours, during a time of stress and worry. We celebrated birthdays, and firepits kept us going in the colder months. Friday Driveways continue, not every week, but quite often, as ‘neighbours became good friends’.
Any effort that I put in to organising the playing out paperwork, stewarding, and managing the odd complaint – an incident now referred to as ‘chalkgate’ will never be forgotten! – has come back tenfold for sure. I don’t have family in the area, so the support of neighbours is valuable in so many ways. A rush to A&E – “can you look after the other kids?”- lending cooking ingredients, babysitting for nights out – you can only do this when you have connections with the community on your doorstep.
Playing out has brought only good things to our street; I had no idea that the ripple effects would be felt for years to come. The seeds were sown for future activism amongst all of us who were involved – imagine how that might affect what the children who were part of it decide to do as adults!