ANALYSIS: Recreation - Teenagers have a right to play facilities aswell

By Anthony Burt

| 28 January 2004

The Government has said that existing services for under-18s need to be improved. Anthony Burt asks if local authorities are rising to the challenge.

Play facilities for older teenagers "are just not good enough".

So says Tim Gill, director of the Children's Play Council and co-author of the Government-commissioned children's play review, Getting Serious About Play, launched last week (YPN, 21-27 January, p2).

According to the review, which canvassed young people's views, "more effort in co-ordinating play services is needed", says Gill.

The review, which suggests what the Department for Media, Culture and Sport should spend 200m of New Opportunities Fund cash on, doesn't go so far as to recommend legislation forcing councils to provide adequate play facilities.

But it is a subject that has got one group of 13-year-olds in Devon campaigning to develop play access for their peers. Making Inclusion a Reality is a group of able-bodied and disabled young people funded through the Government's three-year 10.8m Better Play grant scheme, which started releasing cash this month.

The group confronts local private and public sector leisure providers on issues such as access to theatres and lifts for young disabled people in swimming pools.

Elsewhere, Taunton Deane Borough Council has employed a landscape gardener to consult young people with disabilities on the design of Victory Park.

Rhiannon Prys-Owen, project leader for Barnardo's Somerset Inclusion Project, says: "They're mostly looking at surface levels, play areas and quiet spaces young people can just hang about in."

It is the definition of "play" for teenagers, as simply a relaxing environment for young people to gather in, that causes problems for the adults attempting to define and improve facilities for them. Generally, young people don't call what they do after school or college "play". That's not cool. They hang. So it is important that local authorities create places like the Time Out Cafe in Keynsham, Somerset, which is designed to provide a "technologically advanced safe haven" for teenagers.

Michael Follett, strategic development officer for play in Bath and North East Somerset Council, says: "Play needs to be made statutory by the Government."

His council's policy states that "play is as important as education in young people's development". It is at this time that young people learn things they can never be taught, he says.

Short-lived funding is also an issue. Follett says: "Two-year funding for projects can mean a slow release of money, so the project seems to take a long time."

By the time young people have been consulted, he explains, and the play area agreed upon, that generation has grown up and is demanding new things.

With play service managers, and young people, up against Section 235 of the Local Government Act 1972, which allows councils to draw up bylaws that make skateboarding in public spaces a criminal offence, it is no wonder many play areas have been shut down.

One such project in York saw its skatepark closed and dismantled just five months after opening. The private sector development agreement for the area did not include any adult supervision. Local residents complained to the council about graffiti, noise and vandalism at Holgate Park, resulting in the area being shut down and the skatepark being dismantled (YPN, 30 July-5 August 2003, p3).

Bryan Williams, parks and open spaces officer for City of York Council, says: "We've opened another skate facility in Rowntree Park. And we're consulting residents and the police about where to relocate the one we closed."

The importance of inclusivity and consultation was tackled in November when the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister published its paper, Developing Accessible Play Space - A Good Practice Guide. A document for use by local play service providers, it states: "Social barriers such as fear, embarrassment or discriminatory attitudes need to be tackled so an accessible play space is also an inclusive one, in which disabled children and their families feel welcome".

These themes are carried through in the children's play review and will hopefully steer future Government policy, ensuring there are enough quality play facilities for all young people.

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