Project giving “free, independent play” to children

Streets like these will be flooded with children playing. Pic: Julia Kennedy

Streets like these will be flooded with children playing. Pic: Julia Kennedy

Parts of Hackney are being turned into safe play areas for children, reverting to a time when local streets were safe for children to play games and run around without being in danger from cars.

Parents are now able to close residential streets for a few hours to allow safe play close to their own homes. 

The project focuses on increasing childrens physical activity and has been met with minimal disruptions and objections, a report reveals.

The pilot sessions started in 2012, when Hackney became the first London borough to adopt the “free, independent, outdoor play” initiative of Playing Out, a small organisation offering advice and support to help create initiatives like Play Streets.

There are currently 31 Play Streets in Hackney for children to ride their bikes and enjoy other outdoor activities.

Written by Tim Gill, writer and researcher of children’s play and free time, for the Council’s Get Hackney Healthy Board and Hackney Play Association, the Hackney Play Streets Evaluation Report found that Play Streets helped to bring the community together and encourage children to safely play on their own streets.

According to the report, Play Streets has led to 380 hours of street play sessions in 29 locations that have reached around 1,600 children and nearly 800 families. It has supported 8,100 hours of childrens physical activity equivalent to 14 extra term-time classes of PE lessons.

Hackney Play Association will be running the programme on behalf of the Councils Health and Wellbeing board, allowing residential roads to close for a few hours every week or month.   

Gill said: This model of parents and residents coming together to close the streets for traffic on a regular basis has a lot of potential to get more kids to play.

At the same time, it does not disrupt traffic and annoy too many people.

The report shows that only nine cars had their route diverted per session in the 12-month period between September 2013 and September 2014.

Melanie Read, mother of two and organiser of the Play Street in Heron Drive, Brownswood, applied to close her road as part of the scheme. She said: If it was not for this project, there is nowhere [for my children] to learn to cycle”.

She added: My eldest daughter can cycle now and is really confident with it. She also learnt how to skateboard.

An application for a play street order can be found on the Hackney Council website.

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