Once again we discovered London Play & Play streets via twitter. We interviewed Fiona at London Play to find out more about the charity and what they do to help children across the capital play safely outdoors, like we used to.
What is London Play? And how did it come about?
London Play is a small charity working towards a vision of London as a place where all 1.6m children have the chance to play outside every day. Play is essential for children’s physical, social, emotional and mental development and wellbeing, and is also a basic human right, enshrined in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. However in London (and elsewhere), opportunities for play are under continual threat – from encroaching development, traffic, distorted perceptions of ‘stranger danger’, increasingly sedentary pastimes and greater demands on children’s time in our results-driven society. Meanwhile a quarter of the capital’s children live in overcrowded homes, one in five is obese and levels of inactivity are at an all time high. We were set up in 1998 following a report recommendation that a London-wide body is established to provide support for the play sector and ‘coordinate an effective platform for lobbying and campaigning for policy change – and have been working since then to promote, campaign for, improve and provide more quality play opportunities for London’s children.
Can you tell us about play streets? Where can we find them?
Play streets simply involve residents on a street agreeing together to close their road to through traffic for a few hours a week or a month so that children living on the street can play out on their doorsteps and neighbours can get to know each other better. They are not a new idea – the first play street legislation came into existence in 1938 – and although they peaked in the 1950s with about 700 play streets across the country, by the mid 80s they had all but disappeared. The revival that London Play is spearheading in the capital began in 2008 and now we are working in more than two thirds of London boroughs with residents and councils to promote and support their development across the capital. Our website has a great map of London showing where play streets are active here. For something so simple, they really do make a difference – we continually have people telling us that their neighbourhoods have been transformed by the experience into places where people know and support each other.
Have there been barriers you’ve had to overcome when setting up the play streets? How have you overcome these?
Early on we had some councils seeing complications where there were few, wanting to charge residents exorbitant fees and imposing layers of unnecessary bureaucracy for road closure applications. But there are enough councils in London now with very simple procedures in place that we can point to as examples of efficient and forward-thinking local government which is in touch with the needs and aspirations of its communities. And given that play streets are actually a very cheap part of the solution to so many councils’ strategic priorities – improved public health, cohesive communities, safer, friendlier neighbourhoods – it is not difficult to convince them that they are a good idea. It is also not uncommon on individual streets for there to be a small but vocal minority of residents opposed to the idea. They are worried about things like noise, damage to cars, not being able to get in and out of their property. We usually recommend that people stage a one-off ‘trial’ play street to test the water. Usually after that first session, initial opponents see that their fears have not materialised and are happy to support subsequent sessions, or at least put up with them!
What are your goals for play London / the play streets?
We would like to see every borough in London make it easy for residents who want to, to apply for play street status. And of course, more children playing out where they live and reaping all the benefits of that. But ultimately we want to effect a change in perception of how we view streets. Streets make up something like 80 per cent of public space in London, a city where space is at a premium. It is amazing in a way that for so long, we’ve willingly surrendered all that space to cars. But it’s not an either-or situation – it wouldn’t be practical to ban cars from residential streets and we wouldn’t want to! But streets should be for people too. Play streets open residents’ eyes to the potential for their streets to become important community spaces rather than just thoroughfares (and parking space) for traffic.
We understand play London is a charity, what do you use people’s donations for? And what sort of donations do you ask for? Can people offer their time?
We get most of our funding from grant-making bodies: current providers are the Big Lottery, Heritage Lottery, City Bridge Trust, the Tudor Trust and the Henry Surtees Foundation. Local and central government also support our work; for example the Department for Health is funding some of our play street work because it recognises the health benefits of children playing out. This is all great but as most of this funding is project based, time-limited and very outcome-focused, we are always on the search for more general funding to support our ongoing campaigning, communications and development work. We do sometimes have volunteer opportunities, but what we need the most is regular monetary donations so that we have a stable position from which we can plan ahead. But any contributions are gratefully received! Ways to donate are here on our website. You can also sign up as a supporter of London Play, which is free.
Very impressive! We love what play London do. Be sure to head to their website to find out more.