Helping kids to play out in Hackney

A guest post by Claudia Draper.

As a child of the 1970s, playing out in our quiet cul de sac in leafy Buckinghamshire was just a part of daily life – and for all the other kids on the street too.

Road closedI remember endless football games (with me stuck in goal), cricket, British Bull Dog (dangerous) and if I was lucky, my favourite, Hide and Seek. Cars came in and out of course, but they drove slowly with the expectation that kids might be out and about. Most of the time we played unsupervised, though I’m sure parents kept a look out now and then.

I’m now a mum of three living in Hackney, east London. My two oldest kids aged nine and seven definitely lack the freedom to roam that I enjoyed at their age – mainly because I worry about the speed of traffic in our street, cars regularly bomb along at 40 mph plus. I usually only let them play out if myself or a neighbour can supervise, and that means a lot of the time they’re stuck indoors.

But last summer things started to change for the better after I was spurred into action by an article about Bristol’s Playing Out project. Set up by two mums Alice Ferguson and Amy Rose, Playing Out has pioneered the idea of regular street play sessions, via temporary road closures.

Along with other Hackney residents, I successfully lobbied the council to introduce a similar scheme and now just seven months on there are eight Hackney play streets up and running, including my own street where I run a monthly Playing Out session.

As an organiser, I publicise and coordinate the sessions with help from neighbours, who help with jobs like dropping flyers and tea making. I also recruit a team of eight stewards, who perform the most crucial role – manning the road closure points, diverting traffic and ensuring children stay inside the barriers. People living in the street can still drive in and out very slowly –once children have been safely cleared from the street. I act as a floating steward, overseeing everything is running smoothly and the stewards are properly briefed about their role, and importantly plied with tea!

We remind parents in publicity and on the day that they remain responsible for their children.  Nothing is organised in terms of the kids play, they need no help on that front!

Credit: HackneyPlayingOut

Credit: HackneyPlayingOut

Youngsters of all ages take to the streets on scooters, trikes and bikes; there might be football games and races; roller blading and skateboarding.  Often they chalk draw on the pavements and roads, there might be skipping or pogo-sticks.

I love the way street play brings together children of different age groups. At our first session, some 10 -11 year old boys sat down on the pavement helping two toddlers with Brio.  Likewise my daughter learnt to rollerblade by hanging out with the cool older girl up the street; although they go to the same school, they’d never played together before that day.

Parents also join in the fun, taking part in group skipping, offering a steadying hand to learner-cyclers or helping with some street art.

It’s been great to see people who don’t have children also getting involved. The older residents also enjoy the chance to get out and chat, I was fascinated to hear one lady in her 80s talk about her wartime memories growing up here.

For me volunteering has massively boosted my self confidence, and has been a brilliant way of getting to know more people in my community. Ultimately, it feels like we’re helping to make our street a place that we can all enjoy being out in – young and old alike – and are all becoming more neighbourly as a result.

For information and resources on how to start playing out sessions in your area, go to  www.playingout.net.

Claudia Draper is a volunteer at Playing Out.

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