Where will children’s play be under this Conservative government? Part 1

Cath Prisk
Friday, May 15, 2015

So a week into the new government, with most of the ministers in post, what can we think may be the future of investment in play provision and services? With National Children’s Day UK on Sunday 17th May we’ll be seeing many debates about the science and magic of play, so it feels right to take a hard look at what opportunities for play may be like in the next five years.

It would be fair to say that there are widespread and probably justifiable fears as to job losses and service cuts. The Conservatives are clear that the age of austerity is certainly not over, and though ‘localism’ is an on-going political value that is writ large across their manifesto, that doesn’t always mean devolving power to the Local Authority. In fact for schools there is an explicit commitment to increasing the numbers of primary, secondary and new ‘studio schools’ outside of local control.

In the spirit of a fresh start, I’ve just gone through the Conservative manifesto to look at what actually is committed that may be relevant to those that want to see kids playing outdoors, and married that up with some of the trends of the last five years.

So here, and for the next two weeks, follows my own predictions for the future of policies that link to play. No doubt it will be something to chuckle over in five years time…

1) Many local authorities will seek to increase children’s physical activity, including street play and access to parks

Obesity and ‘sedentary behaviour’ are the rising killer of the next generation. The manifesto repeats commitments to addressing childhood obesity and building on the 2012 legacy. So every authority will have to invest in ways to get people active from ever-shrinking budgets, and they’ll be looking for cost effective, community-driven solutions.

Street Play is perfect for this, closing streets regularly so kids can play there. Street play can also mean promoting, instead of thwarting, traditional play in cul-de-sacs and quiet streets, and of course encouraging play on housing estates and on the shared land around blocks of flats. This has been successfully piloted in both Conservative and Labour boroughs, so comes with a cross-party seal of approval as a locally driven solution. It isn’t free – there have been less-successful pilots where all the council has done is post the opportunity on the website, with no facilitator or training – but it’s certainly not a huge expense.

The manifesto also specifically states they want to increase access to the countryside and to maintain protection for forests, national parks and other environmental protected spaces. Expand this locally to include parks and it’s a relatively easy win for all around the reducing obesity and increasing community cohesion agendas.

Make even better use of what we have could be the order of the day.

Cath Prisk runs her own social enterprise Outdoor People, and is a trustee for The Wild Network. She was formerly director of Play England?

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