When we first set up street play sessions, we often get the same questions from a few neighbours who want to know a little more about how it all works and what will happen, so we’ve put together this list of Frequently Asked Questions. You might also want to look at Playing Out’s discussion of Possible Concerns.
What’s the point of street play? Recent research suggests that on streets that play out children had learned a range of physical and social skills, including riding a bike and interacting with other children and that, as a result of playing out, many feel they belong more in their neighbourhood. Street play is part of a national movement, supported by new legislation to enable occasional street closures, which responds to a growing desire to engage communities and promote child health, in particular. Over 700 streets in more than 70 towns and cities across the UK regularly close their streets for play. See also http://playingout.net/why/10-good-reasons/
What happens during a street play session? Once the Road Closed signs are set up (usually attached to wheelie bins), everyone can play. Some streets organise games – often those the adults used to play as children such as kerbie or stuck in the mud – but most just let the kids get on with cycling, scooting, football, hide and seek, and so on. We give each new street bubbles, pavement chalk and a skipping rope. Adults must be present to supervise their children (see below) and most organisers make a real effort to encourage neighbours without small children to join in too. Most streets bring out some snacks and drinks but that’s not compulsory!
Who gets to say if street play happens on your street? Street play is organised by residents. The initiative comes from a group of residents, not from the council or PlayMeetStreet. They must door-knock and/or deliver letters to all homes directly affected by the planned closure, giving them the opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns. If these can’t be dealt with amongst the neighbours themselves, PlayMeetStreet will try to help. We very much want this to be a positive experience, but recognise that not all residents will be as keen on the idea. We have to demonstrate that most residents have agreed to the planned closure, so that if the majority of residents are supportive, then these events will go ahead. If you do have concerns, we ask that you see how the closure goes – you may be pleasantly surprised.
Why can’t children play in local parks or their gardens? Even though there are sometimes other local spaces to play, the idea of street play is for children to be able to play on their own streets, outside their homes, and to meet other local children, like many adults used to do when they were young. Street play is also about community building and neighbours getting to know each other. Children playing together on their street helps to build a sense of community and belonging, which in turn makes your street a safer and friendlier place.
What about the potential noise and disruption? All of the evidence from the streets that organise street play sessions is that disruption is minimal. They only last for a short period (2-3 hours) each month and noise levels are not especially high. These are public streets and we cannot prevent noise during reasonable daytime hours. Indeed, during the closure there will be less traffic noise than on a normal day and our experience is that streets are quieter during playing out sessions than when open to traffic, to the extent you are more likely to hear birdsong!
What will happen to traffic? A street play session will not stop you from having car access to your home. The only real difference is that through traffic will be diverted and residents will be asked to drive in and out at walking speed behind a steward (one of your neighbours) in a hi-vis vest. Access will always be ensured for emergency vehicles. Stewards will make sure that children are safely off the road temporarily if vehicle access is needed. If you usually park on the road, you may want to consider parking elsewhere, but you do not have to. Through traffic will be diverted, usually onto neighbouring streets or back alleys, with clear signage and stewards to explain the situation. Although this may have a small impact on neighbouring streets, it is only for a few hours and often at a time (e.g. Sunday afternoons) when traffic is reduced anyway.
Will my property be damaged? Some people worry that their cars or front gardens will be damaged by children playing in the street. There is no reason to believe that your property is at any more risk of being damaged than normal and the experience of hundreds of streets playing out across the UK suggests this happens extremely rarely. During street play sessions, children are supervised by their parents or other carers. Those adults are always responsible for their children at all times. If any damage does occur, the relevant parents would resolve the situation, as they would in any other case of accidental damage.