Why nearly 80 streets across the city are now closing for play…
27th August 2015
I am standing on a street in cloudy, slightly rainy weather on a Sunday afternoon. I am with two residents wearing high-viz jackets and we are standing by a line of cones and a big ‘Road Closed’ sign. We are watching people and cars going past, some looking up the street in curiosity, others just taking note of the sign and carrying on their way. Occasionally someone stops and asks if they can come into the street, at which point we explain that they can come in if they need to park but not if they just want to drive through. So far noone has asked to drive in to or out of the street but we are poised with our whistles just in case.
Why are we doing this? Because behind us are about fifteen children scooting, chalking, cycling, running, skipping and playing in the safe space created on their street. Their parents and other neighbours are out with cups of tea and a box of homemade flapjack has been passed around.
This has all come about because a resident on the street came across Playing Out, saw how it could bring real benefits to their own community and got in contact with me asking how to do it. I have met their neighbours, talked about the process, done some printing for them, provided materials and kit, given advice and support through the application process and now I am here at their first session, seeing the impact on the street of stopping through traffic and making the space safe for children to play freely and adults to mix and chat.
I work for Playing Out as the Bristol Project Co-ordinator and help residents in neighbourhoods right across the city organise their own playing out sessions. These are temporary road closures to let children play safely and freely in their street. They are supported by Bristol City Council which has a road closure policy in place – the Temporary Play Street Order – which lets Bristol residents apply to close their streets for playing out sessions regularly throughout the year. Nearly 80 streets across the city are now closing for play every week, fortnight or month for up to three hours each time. Children benefit from playing actively, making friends and getting to know their neighbourhood. Parents and older residents have a chance to get to know each other and build a stronger sense of community.
Playing Out was started by two parents in south Bristol in 2009 and is now a not-for-profit organisation supporting other residents across the city and nationally to activate street play in their neighbourhood. 38 local authorities outside Bristol have now adopted or are trialling similar street play policies.
The organisation is funded by various different streams, including Bristol City Council’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund, NHS Bristol and Neighbourhood Partnership funds. This year we have received Green Capital funding, which has enabled us to run three programmes of work, and increase our impact in the city. These projects are looking at Bristol as a beacon city for street play; working with communities living in housing such as estates and tower blocks, and also creating a network of area activators to increase the support we can give residents.
We have recruited five area activators, three of whom are funded by the Green Capital Strategic Funding and two by Green Capital funding via the St George Neighbourhood Partnership. These activators are working in their local neighbourhood, supporting residents to get playing out started on their street, talking to local groups and organisations about playing out and going to community events to promote the idea.
And the street I was on? They are playing out again in a couple of weeks’ time and are looking forward to many more chances to play freely and get to know their neighbours.