Town and parish councils can boost community well-being, children’s physical activity levels, and tackle isolation by supporting play streets
Author: Pete Davies, chief executive officer at Playing Out
Streets constitute the majority of public space in our villages and towns. To see them only as places to drive and park cars is to undervalue them. Streets can and should be places where people can sit, talk, read, play and walk.
This is how things were for previous generations, and places with this ‘people-friendly’ quality are considered pleasant places to live, work and shop. Enabling these activities to take place safely in our streets positively impacts levels of physical activity and neighbourly connection, which in turn creates healthier, happier individuals and communities.
In the summer of 2022, colleagues at Trowbridge Town Council in Wiltshire piloted a successful 2-hour play street in Studley Green, Wiltshire’s most disadvantaged neighbourhood. This progressive Town Council is now aiming to work alongside Wiltshire County Council to enable more communities across the town to experience the power of play in bringing people together to reclaim their streets for positive activity.
“Play streets are such a simple concept and one that we support in Trowbridge. There are undoubted benefits in terms of health and well-being, and community cohesion that come from these sessions. With the support of the County Council we’re hoping to run a number of sessions this summer to encourage residents to take ownership and feel confident in running play streets themselves. The team at Playing Out provides great support to us as a local council to help bring play streets to our community. We welcome any other councils who wish to discuss implementing play streets to make contact to share ideas and experiences.” — Victoria Spriggs, community events officer at Trowbridge Town Council
At Playing Out, we believe local (parish and town) councils are perfectly positioned to work alongside streets and residents in communities that could benefit from play streets: a low-cost, high-impact community development offer.
Play streets involve residents requesting permission from the council to temporarily close their (quiet, residential) street to through traffic, opening space for children to play safely together right on their doorsteps. Volunteer stewards ensure that residents who need to drive in and out can do so.
Since Playing Out started in 2009 in Bristol, the movement has grown to over 90 council areas that support regular playing out sessions. Some councils don’t yet allow regular road closures for play, but most allow a one-off application for a street party. This is an excellent way for residents to start a conversation with neighbours about using the street to connect and socialise.
Play streets have been spreading across the UK for over a decade, and the positive impact on children has been demonstrated through research: regular extra hours of physical activity, the opportunity to make friends, and the chance to learn fun and useful skills like skipping and riding bikes. With many families facing squeezed budgets, anything that brings more play into children’s lives in an easy, affordable way has to be a good thing.
And many streets who have been playing out regularly for several years have found that it’s not just the children who benefit – it’s a great way to get the whole street community together. Friendships between neighbours are formed or strengthened, and older residents often feel less lonely - everyone on the street is invited to join in, whether they have children or not. When Covid left some elderly or unwell people feeling isolated, those living on play streets found that they already had a support network of friends and neighbours on their street. Play streets aren’t just for children; they’re for everyone on the street.
Our friendly play streets team offers support and guidance to Councils working at every level in the UK and beyond, alongside a range of training and learning events. We have recordings of webinars available for people working in councils and those who want to find out more.
It’s the perfect time of year to start planning for play streets through the summer. If you think this is for you and your communities, please get in touch and join the movement.
The following blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered professional or legal advice. The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Association of Local Councils. Any links to external sources included in this blog post are provided for convenience and do not constitute endorsement or approval of those websites' content, products, services, or policies. Therefore, readers should use discretion and judgment when applying the information to their circumstances. Finally, this blog post may be updated or revised without notice.