I live in a house share with 5 others, on a rat run in Peckham in the London borough of Southwark. There are cars going down our street really fast all the time, and that has a real impact on our ability to connect with the neighbours. It can be really stressful and is definitely not a good place for kids to play in.
I’m not a parent but I’m really interested in neighbourhoods and streets and how we can think about them differently, especially now that we are all spending so much time at home. Lots of houses on the street are subdivided or crammed house shares, and there are lots of high density flats in surrounding streets. Many people in our community have no outdoor space at home, and playgrounds and parks can get really busy. Having a play street is a chance for us to make more space for children and adults in our local area this summer, as well as building community.
A few weeks after lockdown started, we realised that all these people weren’t going outside at all, and we were worried about people having no social interaction. So, I put my latex gloves on and delivered some little flyers inviting people out to sit in their front gardens for an hour that Saturday afternoon for a ‘socially distanced street party’. Loads of people came out, with paddling pools, lunches and music and talked to their neighbours next to them. It was an amazing, empowering day. We wanted to keep this new sense of community, so we restarted a dormant Whatsapp group and did it again a month later. Then, we started talking about actually closing the road, asking people what they thought, and everyone was really positive, so my two neighbours and I decided to apply for a play street.
We made the application to Southwark council, they did come back and ask us how we were going to make it safe with social distancing. We said we would have social distancing marshalls as well as the usual barrier stewards, and would put up signage and chalk the ground. They said that was fine. As it happened, several parents said that it felt much safer for their children to be distancing on the street, than in the local parks which are often super-crowded.
I’ve had positive interactions with so many people: being congratulated on the road closure by the members of an elderly Cypriot men’s club at the end of the road who came over to find out what was happening; watching my professional basketball player neighbour’s amazing dribbling skills; seeing teenagers cruise down the road on hoverboards; and creating postcards for the elderly residents in the care home at the end of the road to help them feel connected to our area after months of shielding.
I was also really moved when some of the caregivers told us that the play street was the first time that their child had socialised with another young person since the start of lockdown. Many also said that their children’s development and confidence had regressed massively since the start of lockdown, and a big part of that is not having anywhere to play. Being able to provide opportunities for children to play is more important than it ever has been, and I’m so happy that our road is able to provide that space.
It’s been a learning curve, for sure. There are lots and lots of opinions and people in the world, and sometimes people have different ideas of fun. The most important thing is to listen: everyone’s concerns are valid. There have been a few not-so-happy drivers and we had a noise complaint, so we need to make sure we can explain quickly what we are doing, and that some areas of the road stay quieter. Generally, though, people have been super-supportive.
We expected a lot more concerns about Coronavirus, but no-one mentioned it when we went around asking people. I know it can feel scary to organise something like this, but honestly it felt so much safer than our local park which has been absolutely packed throughout lockdown. Because a play street is so localised, it’s just between neighbours on one street who have a relationship with each other and can communicate/plan to keep it safe. Our approach to this has been to have social distancing marshals to remind children and anyone about keeping their distance, clear signage, as well as plenty of sanitiser.
Yes, we have now had two play streets, and are excited for our next session next month. My neighbour has invited a local beekeeper to come and show us their craft, and we will be hoping to continue to involve the care home.
Watch Lucy’s presentation from our recent resident workshop webinar: How to run a play street, where she shares her experience of playing out at this time.
You can view all our webinar recordings here.
Want to start playing out more and be part of this change? See our Four Simple Steps and our regularly updated information on play streets in 2020.