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Play Streets and Covid

Here are our current thoughts on how and when play streets are possible in light of the pandemic, and why they can be part of the recovery process.

Updated 2 November 2020

During full lockdown, such as in England from 5th November, play streets are not possible. 

But where and when rules allow for small outdoor gatherings in public space, play streets are a way to enable safe, socially-distanced activity and community connection.

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, both now and in the future. Click on the links below to jump to a topic.


Why do play streets make sense post-lockdown?

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 for their physical and mental health.
  • Neighbours from no more than two households can stand at a distance for a supportive chat.
  • More safe, public outdoor space is needed – parks and green space are in high demand.
  • Play 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.”

When is the right time for play streets?

This is a difficult question, as things are changing all the time. Over the summer, when bars, restaurants and shops were all re-opening – all of which mainly benefit adults – it felt clear that play streets should also be allowed to happen. Residents are very capable of acting responsibly in the same way they would in a park or other public space and play streets can be seen simply as a way to create a safe space, within which people still need to distance and stick to the rules. However, the impact of a second wave and tightening of rules may change things again. Ultimately, it’s a decision for each council and each street to make for themselves but we hope to help inform these decisions by sharing our thoughts, and information and practice from around the UK. Here are some things to weigh up:

  • It’s crucial that play streets are organised in a safe and responsible way, in line with any current government guidelines.
  • In Scotland, children under 12 don’t need to distance outdoors.
  • In England, there is now a 1m+ social distancing rule, with ‘being outside’ one of the mitigating factors.
  • Residents who organise play streets are among the most responsible, self-organising and community minded citizens.
  • People everywhere are managing physical distancing in public space all the time.
  • Looking at the needs and benefits for children and communities is vital.
  • The wider context of what is being allowed elsewhere also has to be considered, in order to make the right overall decision for communities. For example bars, cafes, restaurants and non-essential shops being open.
  • Any decision to go ahead can also of course be paused at any time very easily, by a street or council.

Play streets are traffic-free streets – not social gatherings

Play streets at their essence are not social gatherings but simply the removal of traffic for children to play- like an extension of your local park. These short, regular closures will take pressure off other public areas such as parks and green spaces, and open up safe space close to people’s homes. As well as of course making sure you follow current government rules, here are some Top Tips for making play streets extra Covid-safe.

What is already happening?

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

  • Manchester City Council launched their new play streets application process.
  • Tameside launched Quiet Streets based on the play street model.
  • Brighton and Hove have been allowing play streets to go ahead
  • Croydon Council have been 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!

How to start preparing for play streets

Many councils are now thinking about getting a policy in place or making it easier for residents to apply. Some are already adapting their policies to build-in physical distancing and make them more flexible. For example Croydon Council’s Exercise Streets.

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:

  • Use our template letter to ask your council to re-activate existing orders, re-open applications, or get a policy in place.
  • Watch the recording of our resident workshop “How to run a play street”.
  • Check out our short films on 4 simple steps to playing out.
  • Join our Facebook group to connect with parents and play street activators from around the country.
  • Contact us with any questions.

Explore further

Take a look at our Top Tips for running a play street safely at this time, or read what Lucy in Peckham and Fern in Streatham have been doing where they live.

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