Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Picture the scene: children playing peacefully together in the street just yards from their homes, watched over by groups of chatting parents. It’s an image that harks back to days gone by – but one which could slowly be making a return to Norwich.
It’s an image that harks back to days gone by – but one which could slowly be making a return to Norwich.
A new movement encouraging ‘playing out’ aims to reclaim the street as somewhere for children to play and communities to come together – and could be taking root in the city.
People are encouraged to apply to close their roads legally for two hours a week, handing them over to a parent-supervised free play session for children and somewhere for people to get to know their neighbours once again.
It has already enjoyed success in other parts of the country with a council in Bristol, where the organised movement originated, even adapting legislation normally used for street parties to allow communities to close their road on a weekly basis throughout the year.
People in Norwich have been discussing the idea on the Norwich Evening News’ new community forum website, www.streetlife.com, with several residents considering starting schemes in their own street.
Norwich City Council says it will support communities looking to implement the scheme by charging only a one-off £36 fee for repeat closures.
Alice Ferguson, co-founder of PlayingOut.net, which helps applications get off the ground, said the idea could have a positive health and social effect for children, parents and communities.
“It’s a way for everyone to share space in a safe way,” she said. “Children aren’t outside enough these days – that has been proved in lots of studies – so any way to increase the time children spend outside is a way to tackle obesity.
“When people hear about it they say how wonderful it is, and how they remember doing it in their own childhood, going off exploring all day.
“Playing Out is not quite that, but it’s a step towards getting that back for children.”
Parents set up free play sessions and take responsibility for their own children, but volunteer supervisors and other residents can also help.
The street is usually closed for about two hours on a weekday afternoon, but remains open to residents’ cars, which are ‘walked’ to their space by a supervisor.
Ms Ferguson said “semi-supervision” from parents was important to allow children to build their independence.
“We don’t put on activities or games, though of course they happen among the kids.
“Supervising the session is also a way for parents and volunteers to get to know their neighbours.
“It really is quite do-able, it doesn’t cost much, it has a lot of benefits and it is a way to change your street.”
Claire Stephenson, city councillor for Nelson ward which is one of the areas where the idea has been mooted, said she thought playing out was a brilliant idea, provided residents were in agreement.
“Lots of children are supervised 24 hours a day, and it would be wonderful if there was a place for them just to be outside. It would be great if something like this could take off in Norwich.”
Ms Stephenson said anything that bolstered community spirit was to be welcomed, adding: “There are quite a few communities in Norwich with transient populations where it can be difficult to get to know your neighbours, and children are really good at breaking down barriers.”
However Simon Crawford, an emergency care worker who lives with his partner off Old Palace Road, joined the discussion on Streetlife.com to voice his concerns that children would be confused.
He said: “If you tell kids they can play on the road, especially really young kids, then how are you going to teach them road sense?
“When kids used to play outside it was 50 or 60 years ago, and there wasn’t as much traffic on the roads.”
The 52-year-old said playing out should not be romanticised, adding: “The fundamentals are vehicles are meant for roads, children are not meant for roads.”
A city council spokesman said it had received an informal approach about Playing Out, and confirmed it would be willing to help those looking to make long-term arrangements.
She said: “Our advice was that it would be treated like a road closure request for a street party, which involves a £36 fee.
“However, we’re more than happy to hear from people who might be thinking about collectively getting together to hold a series of events, rather than just one street closure. In this scenario we would charge a one-off fee of £36 rather than charging for each event in the series.”
Anyone interested in making arrangements can contact the city development services team on 0344 980 3333.
What do you think about closing your street to allow children to ‘play out’? Email firstname.lastname@example.org