Playing Out on your street
A guest post by Vanessa Linehan.
I live with my husband and two children, Isabelle and Daniel, in Stoke Newington in Hackney. Sometimes, like a lot of Londoners, we have dreamed about moving to the countryside so that our children could enjoy a more rural lifestyle but the reality is that our work, friends and lives are firmly entrenched in the city and we are happy here. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t want our children to have the freedom to play outside.
We are lucky in that we have several large parks nearby, but our children are still quite young and they can’t go on their own. When I was growing up in Suffolk I spent hours playing outside our house with other children living nearby, and I started to wonder why this sort of spontaneous, semi-independent play didn’t seem to happen anymore.
Fortunately, I came across an organisation called Playing Out based in Bristol which had introduced street play sessions organised by local residents in roads temporarily closed to traffic. It turned out that Hackney Council was receptive to the idea and before we knew it they had agreed to trial Playing Out for a year.
We have now held four sessions in Winston Road. The first took place in brilliant hot sunshine last September and the children were in their swimming costumes playing under sprinklers and in paddling pools which were brought out of gardens and set up in the street. In January, we had inches of snow and the same children wrapped up warm to build an igloo and have snowball fights. Our February session happened on one of those crisp winter days, with bright blue sky and out came roller skates, bikes and chalk and in March, we still had thirty five children who came in their waterproofs and wellies to play football and an improvised game of hockey in the rain. Children really don’t care what the weather is like, so long as they are in suitable clothing and they are having fun.
What I really love is that it is the children who decide what they are going to do each session. As adults we steward the ‘Road Closed’ barriers and we are all responsible for the safety of our own children, but we don’t organise any games or activities for them. Each child has the freedom and independence to decide what they want to play. Daniel spent over two hours this month playing football while Isabelle chose to bring her scooter along to go up and down the road again and again. It’s great physical exercise.
An extra bonus is that we have all made new friends. I have lived on this street for over 13 years but it’s only through Playing Out that I have got to know some of my neighbours. We have a new found sense of community and we all share the responsibility for turning our street into a place where our children can have the freedom to play outside in their own way. We can’t wait for our next session to see what the weather and the children will bring!