Put fun back into play, says report

RICHARD BATSON Safety measures have taken the fun out of children's play areas, says a new report seeking to bring a buzz of excitement back to the sanitised swings and slides.

RICHARD BATSON

Safety measures have taken the fun out of children's play areas, says a new report seeking to bring a buzz of excitement back to the sanitised swings and slides.

Officials worried about risks to children have denied them of the thrills earlier generations enjoyed in playgrounds, says the report.

And youngsters who find the new breed of safe equipment too dull are likely to go in search of their kicks at more dangerous sites near roads and railways.

The findings are part of a report on the subject of fun and play in north Norfolk, which is aimed at winning £200,000 of Big Lottery cash for improvements, including a possible mobile youth club for older children.

A 25-page play strategy highlights the safety issue, saying councils in particular had "sought to eliminate risk from play spaces, because of the fear of litigation".

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The result was play areas becoming uninteresting and unchallenging - but there was hope of a new era, with a national organisation Playlink saying legal advice showed it was only necessary to have sensible precautions rather than slavishly follow standards.

North Norfolk District Council's countryside and parks manager Paul Ingham agreed there needed to be a balance between safety and play value, but that the benefits of play should take priority.

The old tall slides and witches hats of his youth had gone, but it was possible to have imaginative fun equipment such as ropes over water and artificial boulders.

The strategy, which asked parishes and children about facilities and needs, found that 21 villages in north Norfolk had no play area at all. Others had "a field with a pair of tatty goalposts", said Mr Ingham.

There was a call to make more use of the natural environment for play, while the lack of transport to reach facilities was also highlighted.

Some 93pc of the older 11-18 age group said there was not enough to do, and a survey revealed requests for a mobile disco, sports or recording facilities. But it also show-ed 38pc of them did not take part in youth activities because they were not confident going on their own, while a further 50pc did not have time or "could not be bothered."

The report adds that, surprisingly, only 12pc wanted skate parks.

It says play should be fun, educational, and involve movement, social interaction, role play, emotions, team building, using natural elements of earth, water, fire and air, along with building and demolition.

The council cabinet, which meets on Monday, is being asked to adopt the Playing About strategy, and seek £200,000 of funding of schemes through the Big Lottery children's play programme.

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