Rob in Tring, Hertfordshire
“Resolving objections is part of what makes a community. All kinds of streets around the world are making this happen. Why shouldn’t you be allowed to do it?”
Long, friendly and home.
How long have you been playing out?
Five years, since 2014
What attracted you to the idea of ‘playing out’?
I wanted my kids to have some of the same freedoms I had as a child and also to get to know other people on the street.
How did you get started?
We had a street party and then a street meeting about it.
Who have been your closest allies?
Some key local councillors (town, district and county). We could not have done it without getting their support. Plus some key residents on the street who believed in it from the beginning and stewarded the first two sessions and managed the drivers and the weather. It’s been sunny almost every session since!
How did the council respond to the idea?
We managed it with the minimum of fuss and it went through as a pilot with the support of our county councillor and the interest of the highways officers. The pilot then became permanent.
What has been the biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?
Two families on our street (it’s a very long street) were dead against it and on a couple of sessions they drove dangerously during sessions. However managing this, in one case with the assistance of a friendly word from our local community policing team, has actually strengthened the sense of community. I’ve actually got to know those families reasonably well now.
What has been the best thing for you or your street?
I know about two thirds of the residents on our street now (around 130 houses). There’s a lot of helping each other out and lots of positive stuff that just happens because now most of us know each other.
Any favourite moments?
Quite a few… When new residents come to a street play session or street party for the first time and are just bowled over by how friendly the street is. New Longfield Road babies! A fancy dress leaving party for one family. The World Cup screened outside for the whole street at a neighbour’s front yard Golden Wedding Anniversary street play and surprise party!
Any tips or advice for others?
Find others on the street to work with. Start with a street party – it can be an easier concept for everyone to understand. Seed the idea into conversations informally. You need at least one other resident who is right behind the idea.
Work with the local authority structures that are there. Unless you live in a cul-de-sac you need to do this properly and legally if you want a road closure to stick.
Draw on support from Playing Out. You WILL get objections, unless you live on a very small street or are very lucky. Some people find change very threatening. Join the Playing Out Community for support – the Facebook Group or go to an Activator Day – because you are not alone and will need some support when the going gets tough.
Don’t accept no for an answer. Resolving objections is part of what makes a community, so there is a silver lining even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. Also all kinds of streets around the world are making this happen. Why shouldn’t you be allowed to do it?
Be present. The first session can feel a bit scary: balancing not wanting to be a control freak with getting the road closed and reopened safely. Be out there and try and smile through it – it gets a lot easier, but you still have to keep an eye on things. You are about to have more fun then you can possibly imagine!!
What is the one bit of advice you wished you’d had before you started?
I was working to bring about change beyond my own street and, unlike in some other areas of the UK where this has been easier, it was difficult. I wish we had known not to bother lobbying Herts County Council to roll this out across the whole county. Or figured out sooner that the councillors and highways officers we were talking to either didn’t support it but wouldn’t come out and say it, or simply in the end didn’t have the clout to get it any further.
We spent ages on this and if we had a time machine I would have dropped the Herts lobbying sooner and concentrated on building a larger base of streets having street parties and worked from there.
Having said that, my co-activators (other parents wanting to bring about bigger change) managed – at last! – to get a district to support Playing Out and maybe that only came about because of the noise we made at county level. Who knows.
Perhaps you could boil my advice down to:
Your time and effort are valuable so be prepared to change strategy if you are getting nowhere with one route.
Look after yourself, and your family and spouse. Community change can be hard and stressful at times. Remember why you are doing it in the first place!
Where did your motivation come from?
Looking out of my front window shortly after my twins were born and feeling sad that there were no kids playing out on the street… ever.
Finally, what do you hope the Playing Out movement will achieve?
I see Playing Out as a key piece of the jigsaw to create liveable towns and cities that are about people, community and the environment. It may sound trite but when looking at some of the big issues we face on the planet (climate change, polarised opinions, loneliness, consumerism) often the most meaningful actions we can take are literally on our front doorstep.
Rob and his street – and his work for wider change locally – are just part of the action taking place around the UK, led mainly by parents and supported by forward thinking local authorities and community organisations. Read other parent and resident Playing Out stories here.
Want to start playing out more and be part of this change? See our Four Simple Steps or check out our other ideas to support children’s freedom.