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Play streets and covid-recovery

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

Updated 31 August 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 2020 recommended the temporary pedestrianisation of streets as a safe, equitable alternative to cramped indoor socialising. We now know that transmission of the virus outdoors is far less likely than indoors.

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?

All restrictions on social gatherings in England eased on 19 July 2021 which of course includes play streets.

See our guidance about managing covid risk on a play street.

Many areas had already re-started play streets earlier in the year, or at least opened applications up (see list below).

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.

Given that pubs and all other indoor venues are open, we see absolutely no reason why play streets – which are outdoors and with people spread out across the street – shouldn’t go ahead.

Whether you are a resident, activist, council officer or community worker, you can contribute to a summer of play.

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, 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.
  • 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!

Many councils and organisations are getting policies in place or thinking about how to make it easier for residents to apply.

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?

These are just the areas who have been in touch with us so far… there are undoubtedly many more.

  • Adur and Worthing council announced that residents could start playing out again from  17 May
  • Norfolk County have launched a new play street application page for residents
  • North Tyneside council have been accepting applications to play out again since 17 May and have had over 30 street play sessions since!
  • Bristol City Council re-opened applications at the end of April.
  • Wolverhampton re-opened their play street applications on 12 April and have been running online activation sessions
  • London Borough of Merton have launched a new play street application process for residents
  • Manchester City Council launched their new play streets application process last summer and they’ve now re-opened applications.
  • Tameside have re-opened applications for play streets to start happening again on 17 May.
  • London Borough of Hackney have re-opened applications.
  • St Albans Playing Out applications have re-opened and they’ve been running online zoom information sessions
  • Brighton and Hove are allowing play streets this summer.
  • Sheffield and East Dunbartonshire are both running pilot play streets, with a view to creating a universal policy

Read about two residents who started playing out during lockdown:

“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