Motivated parents and residents around the UK are spreading the idea of opening streets for play. Amy in Hull heard about the ‘playing out’ model and made it happen in her city for the first time – here is her story.
“We live on a very neighbourly street, the sort where people put their stuff out on the verges labelled “take me”, and it has a history of street get-togethers. I set up a street Facebook group a few years ago to make connecting with neighbours even easier. There was a thread about what things people wanted to do ages ago and a neighbour had mentioned “closing the street for play… like what they do in Bristol.” That was the first time I had heard of the notion.
A year or so later I was at a playgroup talking to a Mum who lived on the next street and she said that our street would be absolutely perfect for “playing out” so right there and then I decided that I was going to throw my energy into seeing if it could be done. I wanted a project and this was it!
Talking the Council into Saying Yes
I rang the council and asked to speak to the Highways Officer and told him all about it. A friendly chap but nonetheless he said, “No, you can’t do that, not for playing,”. However, as an ex-council worker I knew there was wiggle room. “I know that other councils do it, Bristol for example…” and then the cogs were in motion. In Hull, we have an epic annual fair, imaginatively named “Hull fair” – it’s a big deal, and a street is closed for a week every time for all the food vans – so he got thinking and he told me that he was up for it, but I needed political support.
I had support from the Playing Out gang (thank you!), who gave me all the info, contacts and links that I was able to pass on. Crucially, it included Highways Officers in other authorities.
Getting Key People on Board
I contacted all my Councillors through an online thing and the area coordinator got in touch straight away to say the councillors were really supportive of it and let’s arrange a meeting.
The meeting was with our highways man and the Councillors, who didn’t turn up, but that didn’t seem to matter as they supported it anyway!
We were told to think about liability, that any pot-holes were suitable for cars but not for playing, and to get out there and consult. If there wasn’t a significant number of objections (over 50%) then it would be thumbs up. Also, there was a pot of money we could apply to for kit and signage.
Consultation with my neighbours
Consultation was a letter (as I’d already spread the word on the Facebook group and on the street noticeboard and had twenty people who were well up for it). This resulted in two angry phone calls, which was unnerving, mainly because they weren’t willing to talk, only to shout and both hung the phone up on me. This was anxiety-inducing. [NB. This is not an uncommon experience when you propose the idea to your street. Our advice is here and a positive story of how objectors became supporters on one street is here.]
All systems go (finally)
We finally got the official go ahead about three or four days before the day, which was super stressful as I wasn’t comfortable advertising it before we had the official stamp. The funds also hadn’t come through in time (aaaaaaaargh), so Playing Out kindly allowed us to borrow the kit – something we couldn’t have done without. A resident also told us about a charity that hires out play equipment for free to registered groups, which was brilliant.
On the day all the stewards turned up for the briefing, we borrowed bins and got on with it!
The children were so keen!
9am on a Sunday was a bit too early, but by 10am there were around thirty children. One was rolling around on the tarmac with wild abandon, others were filling up water guns with puddle water.
Just as they got into playing on the street, everyone seemed to want to drive somewhere so there was a lot of stewarding of vehicles.
The neighbours thought it was wonderful. Children made friends with other children they didn’t know: as there are so many local schools, kids on the street don’t always know each other. Lots of people have asked when the next one is and are looking forward to more.
There will definitely be tea and cake at the next one!
My favourite bit was when I reopened the street and came across some chalked words on the road F..R..E..I couldn’t believe it, my heart skipped a beat, the kids had written “Freedom” I thought to myself! Nope, “Freddie Stinks”. Poor Freddie.
Involving the Police was a good idea
I had invited the local police team, having read it was a good idea. I wasn’t sure if I liked the idea of it really, but I went with it. Honestly, it was the best thing I did. During the session some residents who (I think the angry ones who rang me during the consultation) stood up in their bay window looking very unhappy. The police presence helped me feel calmer and that it was authorised and okay.
What would we do differently next time?
All the stewards got together a few weeks later to see what we might want to change. We decided that for our street we need five stewards minimum, because cars were pulling out of the closed section throughout the session. We also decided to place the toys along the verges spread out next time, so there wasn’t a massive blockage outside someone’s house. We also have had people suggest closing another part of the street another time, that might be less traffic heavy.
All set for 2018 to be a year of playing out.
Tomorrow morning I’m going to the council’s first working group meeting. I’m hoping to talk to the highways officer in person to see if he will let us use a better piece of the street, then consult the street for a year’s worth of sessions.
Are YOU a street play pioneer?
Playing Out can support you to seed or grow street play where you live. Come along to our Activator Day on 24th February or just contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a chat. We may even be able to help with funding for local groups to spread the word and support more streets to play out. Let us know your thoughts and plans and we’ll do what we can to help.