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Stronger communities

The impact of playing out sessions includes helping to build connections, friendships and trust between neighbours of all ages and backgrounds.

Neighbours sharing tea

Play streets are a chance for children to play freely together and for everyone to gain a sense of reclaiming the space on their doorstep. Research has shown that play street sessions lead to increased community connection, belonging, trust and friendship between neighbours of all ages and backgrounds. This has made a real difference to residents both during Covid and as a new way to come together as restrictions eased.

Friendlier communities in turn enable children to play out more, so play streets can be part of a ‘virtuous circle’ for children and communities. You can read about all these benefits below.

Reducing loneliness and isolation

The Jo Cox commission on loneliness (2017) found that over 9 million adults in the UK are “always or often lonely” and in 2018 loneliness was identified by the government as a threat to public health on a par with obesity or smoking.

Research by Professor Alison Stenning at the University of Newcastle, showed that playing out sessions were beneficial for both children and adults in tackling loneliness, with over 70% of research participants stating their children had formed new connections and friendships through playing out. This is further supported though our 2021 Survey where 89% agreed that they know more people on their street as a result of playing out.

 “Play streets allow residents to make connections with their local community in a low-pressure environment – these connections support everyday contact and friendships between adults and children that lead to the exchange of help and support. As the sessions are usually monthly, this regularity enables people to build up relationships with each other over time and form closer ties with their neighbours”.
Prof. Angie Page (2017)

The positive impacts of play streets spill over not just into other neighbourly activities but also into the times and spaces between playing out sessions. These new connections can support neighbours in previously unknown vulnerable situations and allow communities to become more inclusive and accessible.

One resident of a play street tells the story of getting to know an elderly lady on her street through playing out stating that “she said before she didn’t know anybody in the street and she’s a lady living on her own who’s poorly … now I just know that I can knock on somebody’s door, that has made that big difference” .

Building relationships

Through the consultation period, coming together to steward sessions or simply coming out the front door for a chat, play streets bring neighbours together across age groups and different backgrounds.

“Playing out has really helped bridge the generation gap. It’s been a very positive experience.”
Play street resident

A 2018 survey conducted by Skipton Building Society revealed that 73% of people do not know a single neighbour’s name. In contrast to this, in the 2021 Playing Out Survey, 89% of play street residents stated they knew more people on their street as a result of playing out, with 63% saying that they now meet socially with neighbours.

“WhatsApp is all very well but if you know people’s faces and who they are, it takes it that step further and that’s what playing out does.”
Play street organiser

Organising playing out sessions fosters understanding and brings together neighbours of all walks of life. Societal barriers and differences have been seen to break down as neighbours work together towards the common goal of safe street play for the children in their community.

“It’s a brilliant thing – has really changed the dynamic of our street for the better and allowed people to meet neighbours from different backgrounds/age groups etc they would never have had the chance to meet ordinarily”.
Play street resident

The report, “Street play initiatives in disadvantaged areas: experiences and emerging issues” by Tim Gill found that all interviewees felt that significant progress had been made towards building community spirit and a sense of neighbourliness through being involved in resident-led street play.

Sense of belonging

A sense of belonging has been found to help protect children against poor mental health and improve their learning. Play streets provide an environment in which children can play freely and be more visible; allowing them to develop positive relationships and feel that they are active members of their community.

(89%) of play street participants report feeling an increased sense of belonging in [their] neighbourhood’  (Playing Out Survey 2021)

“It has welcomed us into the community, and we’ve become part of a support group that I’ve only ever witnessed as a military family on a patch.”

Play street resident

Play streets lead to children and adults feeling more connected to each other and their communities. Through the action of coming together, learning about each other and reclaiming a sense of ownership of the streets and places in which they live, play streets allow residents to feel they belong to their local communities.

“[Play streets are] a connected and supportive community of families and friends for our children. Kids learning more each others’ differences and building respect for one another.”
Play street resident

Building trust and creating community safety

The positive impacts of play streets extend beyond the sessions themselves – play streets can be instrumental in changing how people perceive where they live. In research conducted by the University of Newcastle over 86% of residents reported that their street felt safer as a result of play streets sessions.

“My children know who lives in almost every house on our street and I know that in a crisis they would have so many people they could go to.”
Play street resident

As more playing out happens and children’s play becomes more visible, streets feel like safer, more liveable spaces. As this playing out culture begins to embed itself, adults feel more comfortable allowing their children to play out and in turn there is an increase in children’s visibility – creating a self-sustaining culture of trust and play within an area.

This culture is mutually beneficial to both children and adults, making the overall street feel like a safer space, as one play street resident explains: “they always say they like seeing them [the kids playing] and the kids make them feel safe because they’re kind of protecting the street like a reverse thing like so if somebody’s there if the kids are out it means, you know, Billy Burglar’s not gonna come down the path because the risk of being seen and stuff, so they kind of see them as a, like a protection”.

The increased sense of trust and safety that play streets bring is known not only to the residents and local community, but to law enforcement too:

“Crime and anti-social behaviour will not thrive in strong communities. The benefits of playing out sessions go way beyond the fun the children have. It is the community coming together to achieve something they can see and hear that really makes the difference. Getting to know each other, understand each other, trust each other and develop a sense of community achieves much more to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour than patrolling police officers can.”
Chief Inspector Kevan Rowlands of Avon and Somerset Police

COVID response and recovery

The trust and connections fostered through play streets has been more important than ever during the pandemic and as communities begin to recover and rebuild from the impact of successive lockdowns and social isolation.

“People knew each other through doing play streets […] so it was easy to set up a covid-19 support group, which helped get food and other support to people who needed it – including moral support for one older person living on their own who was suffering from anxiety and depression.”
Play street resident

Prof Stenning’s research has shown that ‘the act of facilitating street play can add a sense of purpose and connection’ – which can translate to mutual support when needed.

“At one playing out session we decided to have a collection point for our local food bank, and when we went into lockdown, we decided to do doorstep food bank collections even during the most severe lockdowns as the need was so high in our city. We often filled 2 carloads of donations.”
Play street organiser

In the 2021 Playing Out Survey over two thirds of people stated that their ‘street’s community has been supported in re-building post-lockdown’ as a result of play street sessions.

Finally, for children, play streets are a chance to reconnect and play together after a long period of disruption and isolation. Read more about the benefits of playing out post lockdown in this blog by Alison Stenning.

Culture Change

Through building stronger, more trusting and friendlier communities where both adults and children know each other, play streets can also be part of creating a longer-term change for children, where parents feel happy to let them play out semi-supervised, knowing that they feel safe and at home and that other people will look out for them.

“All the effort was paid back in gains for my kids and our family. We normalised street play by running sessions fortnightly or monthly for 4 years, now we can just let the kids get on with it. Our street is a well-connected mini community.”
Play street organiser

Play Streets: Community Impact Downloadable Infographic

09/12/2021 — 215 KB

Feel free to download and share this infographic full of data which demonstrates the positive impact of play streets on communities

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