Claire Lowman is Public Health Service Lead for Bristol City Council and gives her perspective on the health and community benefits of street play.
It was back in 2009 when I first came into contact with Greville Road Residents’ Association in Bedminster, who wanted to try out play sessions in their street. At the time I was working on a physical activity plan for Bristol – a city of more than 400,000 – and had been looking at the evidence of what worked in terms of getting children and adults more active. Walking, cycling and outdoor active play were top of the list for being accessible to lots of people and a good way of getting active for health. In fact Bristol University had completed some research called the PEACH study, which showed that time spent outdoors equalled children being more active.
Playing Out asked for support to run six sessions in after-school time on their street. We approached the council together and looked at a way to allow the residents to temporarily divert vehicles and create a safe place for street play. At this point Playing Out was born.
To me, it made sense to provide free, active play on families’ doorsteps, not expecting people to take their children to a specific place to play or be active. I could also see the wider health benefits of people getting to know their neighbours and children learning to cycle and scoot and then using these as ways of travelling to school.
Since then we have worked together over the years and public health as a team has moved from the NHS into Bristol City Council. We continue to support Playing Out as an initiative and we are delighted that the team is now giving support to residents and organisations across the UK. In fact when I see Playing Out talked about in the national papers and on social media I feel proud that it all started in Bristol.
The role of the public health team is varied, but we know a lot about how health behaviours can have lasting positive effects on individuals, families and communities throughout their lives. Being physically active is one of those good habits that we encourage and support, and often the best ideas of how to achieve this come from the communities themselves, because making the most of where people live and the places they like can be the key to success.
Playing Out is one of these kind of community ideas – designed as a way to give children the space, time and safety to play actively right outside their front doors. To call it a low-cost, multi-generational initiative might seem like unnecessary jargon but in public health terms that’s what it is. And having seen it for myself and watched groups of children racing and chasing down their street I also know it’s fun and that’s the important bit!