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Play streets and covid-recovery

How play streets can help children and communities to recover after lockdown.

Updated 7 April 2021

Play streets are a really positive, low cost, resident-led activity which enable safe, socially-distanced physical activity and neighbourly connection. After this most challenging year, what better way to emerge, heal and re-connect? Research presented to SAGE in November recommends the temporary pedestrianisation of streets as a safe, equitable alternative to cramped indoor socialising.

See here for updates on what each nation’s rules mean for outdoor play in general.

Read more below on what Covid means for play streets. Click on the links below to jump to a topic.

When can we start play streets?

It is ultimately a judgment for each area to make, as play streets don’t always fit neatly into the guidance. The new road map states that from 17 May the rule of six will be dropped and gatherings of up to 30 people outdoors can take place. It’s important to recognise that a play street is not an organised public event or even really a ‘gathering’ – it is simply a way for neighbours to make use of the public space on their doorstep.

Some areas may wish to start earlier than 17 May, as from 12 April outdoor events are allowed with covid-secure precautions and a relevant risk assessment. See our guidance on running a covid-secure play street.

Of course, there’s no doubt as things stand that play streets can happen from 21 June.

Whether you are resident, activist, council officer or community worker, one – two months is a very good amount of time to start preparing for a summer of play! Read on to find out how.

Why do play streets make sense as part of covid recovery?

Temporary Play Streets are short, resident-led road closures on quiet residential streets that open up extra outdoor public space for neighbours to use responsibly and safely. There are many good reasons to think about play streets as part of healing and emerging from the impact of Covid and lockdown:

  • Children desperately need to play outside this summer, have fun with their friends and let off steam
  • Play streets at their essence are simply the removal of traffic for children to play- like an extension of your local park
  • More safe, public outdoor space is needed – parks and green space are in high demand.
  • Neighbours can stand at a distance for a supportive chat (adhering to the rule of 6 where applicable).
  • Play streets, like School Streets, support national and local government focus on creating safer, cleaner streets.
  • Communities self-organise the closure together responsibly.
  • Parents are responsible for their own children.
  • Closures are safe for those shielding (to avoid or to participate from the doorstep).
  • No sharing of toys/equipment needs to be involved – everyone can use their own stuff.
  • Very low cost for councils – most streets need minimal support.
  • Local closures can be paused at any time where necessary.

As many people are feeding back to us:

Play streets could be a wonderful way both to mark more freedom and to hang on to some of the good things that have been part of this challenging time. And, in fact, to build on these.”

Get ready to play out this summer!

With the new road map making it clear that play streets can happen this summer, many councils are now getting a policy in place or thinking about how to make it easier for residents to apply. From 17 May the rule of 6 will be dropped outside and up to 30 people can meet outdoors.

At Playing Out, we have over 10 years of experience in supporting residents to open up their street space, and supporting councils across the UK to get good policies in place that allow parents and residents to self-organise. We can help you!

If you work in a council:

If you are a parent/resident:

What is already happening?

Some streets and councils started or re-launched play streets over summer 2020, to great benefit:

  • Tameside launched Quiet Streets based on the play street model.
  • Brighton and Hove were allowing play streets to go ahead
  • Croydon Council were allowing residents to organise Exercise Streets throughout lockdown.
  • Several London boroughs allowed play streets to take place, including Westminster, Camden, Southwark, Lambeth, Greenwich, Islington and likely more we haven’t heard about.
  • Leeds Council allowed existing play street organisers to run socially distanced play streets.
  • North Tyneside Council, in partnership with local organisation re-launched play streets.
  • Salford Council have announced that they will be launching a new play streets policy based on our model
  • We’ve heard from lots of residents making use of their existing play street dates to do socially distanced activity. See below two stories we’ve collected:

“We live on such a rat run, it was amazing the difference it made. Very, very heart-warming.”

  • Lucy in Peckham – read Lucy’s story about encouraging her neighbours to play out emerging from lockdown, and the great benefits it had.
  • Fern in Streatham – great tips and advice on organising a play street in the time of social distancing, while still having fun!

See our guidance for covid-secure play streets

See guidance here