We first began Playing Out on our street in the springtime. Like excited little lambs – if lambs could stick two playful fingers up at rat-running traffic. We’d begun thinking about it the summer before but had put it off. The process had all seemed a bit daunting.
In fact, knocking on doors and chatting with neighbours I’d never met was of course a lovely thing to do. And when I explained why I was there, not one said they didn’t want to see kids playing in the street.
We reaped the rewards of our new concrete playground over the summer, wending up and down on bikes and scooters, aiming water guns at each other, sharing lollies and smiles…
Why we love playing on our street
Side effects have included meeting new friends, helping each other with all sorts of things from lending kitchen objects to babysitting swaps and moral support. And we’ve discovered mutual interests, friends and gripes. None of this would have happened if we weren’t playing out.
But as November kicks into gear, there’s no doubt that the road crew is getting a bit jittery about the idea of Shivering Out. The kids will be alright, but the grown ups are already finding it tougher.
That said, we never went into this with the intention of being ‘fair weather’ Players. It’s such an enjoyable, communal punctuation to our weeks that we’re determined to grit our teeth and make it through the challenging months.
Tips for winter street play and keeping warm…
Last weekend my neighbour brought out a secret weapon (not that we’re advocating getting through the whole of winter like this) – a cauldron of hot Pimms, spiced and steaming and full of pieces of fruit (warming, but not affecting our capabilities!) With a little booze jacket on, we were able to stay out for at least half an hour longer.
Keeping the blood moving worked a treat too. We chalked a start and finish line and were soon racing up and down, hopping and skipping with the kids.
Making the street into a safe space for children involves people stewarding at each end, so that only residents can drive in at walking pace. If you’ve always been the steward, winter is your chance to swap the role between the adults (after an important briefing of course), so you can all have turns to run up and down to keep warm.
…And the right clothing
Over steaming mugs we shared winter survival tips: fur lined leather gloves; five layers of wool; stories from previous lives in Canada and Scandinavia; and of course that old, much-debated chestnut about the importance of a hat, given that you lose a third of your body heat through your head…(or do you…?)
A neighbour reminded me of a funny quote: “there’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing”. We’d all heard it but no one knew who said it. Billy Connolly? Eddie Izzard? Rufus Wainwright someone else suggested. Turns out she was nearly right – it was Alfred Wainwright who wrote “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” in his 1973 book Coast to Coast.
Wainwright was an evangelical fell walker, author and illustrator who devised the popular Coast to Coast walk in England and wrote the now famous guides to the Lakeland fells. A shy and unhappy kid, Alfred hated to be inside. Even as a boy, he would walk up to 20 miles a day. And nearly 30 years after his death, his legacy continues to inspire children as young as 4 to get outside and ‘bag some fells’.
Wainwright also said: “The precious moments of life are too rare…we should hoard them as a miser hoards his gold, and bring them to light and rejoice over them often. We should all of us have a treasury of happy memories to sustain us …to be stars shining through the darkness.”
Playing out has proved itself to be one of the simplest and surest routes to making these kinds of memories for me. And perhaps if we don’t manage to make it out every single week in the cold and the wet, we can invite each other into our homes and remember some of the happy memories we’ve made together so far.
If you want to organise playing out sessions your street, have a look round our website, join our Facebook group where parents and residents are talking about what they’re doing, or get in touch by phone or email if you need any help 🙂