The campaign for children’s play spaces gathers pace

The response to our research, which uncovered a steep decline in England’s provision of playgrounds, has been extraordinary. The Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Mail and Times all ran the story. With public support from over ten notable organisations, including government departments, along with national radio and online coverage, #Nowhere2Play has certainly struck a chord with the media and public alike.

It’s encouraging to know that play is valued so highly and recognised as fundamental to children’s wellbeing. Play is so vital to children’s physical, emotional, social and cognitive development, that unless we protect our play spaces the childhood obesity epidemic will worsen and children’s mental health will continue to decline.

Play is clearly something that people care very deeply about, and rightly so. We have now a rare opportunity to capitalise on this momentum - to make a real difference for children today and for future generations.

I believe also, that the recent call for a snap general election represents a further opportunity for play. As the political parties clamour for our votes over the next few weeks, they will listen if enough of us tell them what we care about. So, in the run-up to the election, we will be asking the political parties to prioritise play provision in their manifestos.


Let’s remind ourselves of the aims of #Nowhere2Play:

  • to ensure that children have inspiring, well-designed and safe spaces in which to play freely, and ultimately;
  • to secure investment in England’s playground provision sufficient to halt their decline and safeguard their future

A relatively modest investment now would generate a huge return for our young people. Every political party, every government, makes choices about how it spends and invests our money. #Nowhere2Play has uncovered a groundswell of opinion that the provision of decent play spaces isn’t a ‘Cinderella’ issue – it’s one that touches us all.

Could play provision easily slip back down the political agenda if we let it? What about the other vital issues facing the electorate like education, the NHS and mental health services? How can we compete with those?

The answer is that play doesn’t have to compete with them. The importance of children’s play, along with getting children moving more generally, has a natural synergy with education and the mental and physical health of young people. Our campaign to make sure that children have somewhere to play should be seen as part of a larger movement and one from which we can draw support.
Mark Hardy

PS.... If you live near or know of a playground that has been closed or has been earmarked for closure, please let us know immediately. Such closures often have a profound effect on their communities – the more we can demonstrate this the stronger our case for playground provision will be.

Mark Hardy, Chairman Association of Play Industries.
Follow me on Twitter api_chairUK
Date: 03 May 2017


 

Why #Nowhere2play is so important

API Chair Mark Hardy reflects on what this new research means, showing a sharp decline in play spaces in England.
As Chair of the Association of Play Industries I know first-hand the dramatic effect a well-thought-out, well-executed play space can have on a community. The right kind of playground can transform the daily lives of those around it – drawing kids outdoors, tempting them away from solitary days spent in front of their screens and replacing them with days spent interacting, playing – being children.

Sadly, I’ve also seen the effects that the demise of a loved playground can have on the people living around it. Children won’t spend their free time somewhere that doesn’t excite and inspire them to move and play. So they retreat indoors or ‘hang around’ with little to do.

This new research has uncovered a decline so steep in England’s play provision that none of us can afford to ignore it. Not just those in the play industry, but everyone – parents, families, communities, health professionals, educators – the list is endless. Because play is fundamental to children, essential to their emotional, social, cognitive and physical development. 

Free play and activity is not a given for many, many children. Let’s not forget that we live in a country where space is at a premium and lots of children do not have gardens or outside space in which to move. Children’s access to play space is not equal; it’s the deprived areas that are hit the hardest by cuts in public play provision and the ones that will suffer the most.

And, of course, we now know that the obesity crisis among children though widespread, is much more prevalent in poorer areas. It seems counterintuitive, to say the least, for Government to prioritise tackling childhood obesity and yet take away the only chance for some children that they have for free play and movement.

We also know that there is a crisis among the mental health of UK children, with one-fifth experiencing mental illness. Once again, the benefits of physical activity and unstructured play in good quality, well-maintained and stimulating public playgrounds cannot be overlooked. More and more evidence is emerging about the positive association between physical activity, play and mental health.

I understand the current squeeze on public finances but in the long-term, cutting play provision will cost us more, contributing to the number of obese young people who are more likely to mature into obese adults. In addition, children who have nowhere to play will not develop the social and emotional skills needed for successful adult lives.

It’s a relatively small amount of money that is required to turn the situation around. But it’s clear that a modest investment now would generate a huge return. We have an opportunity now to impact the next generation’s lives in the most positive way and it’s one we must take. 

Nowhere to Play Report

Mark Hardy, Chairman Association of Play Industries.
Follow me on Twitter api_chairUK
Date: 13 April 2017

 


 

Introduction 

I'm Mark Hardy, Chair of the API.  Welcome to my new blog.  I lead the association’s strategic direction and, specifically, the UK play industry’s strategy on tackling the physical inactivity crisis.    

We are at a tipping point as far as physical inactivity goes.  Children are naturally hard-wired to play and be physically active, yet inactivity as a root cause of obesity is now an entrenched health crisis.  Without tackling this significant issue from the ground up, we risk overburdening the NHS as it struggles to cope with the effects.  Play has a vital contribution to make in getting children moving more.  

There has never been greater need for the “bold, brave measures” promised - but sadly missing from - the government’s obesity strategy.  According to the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP), obesity prevalence in the school year 2015/16 was more than twice as high in year 6 (19.8%) as in reception (9.3%).  

Obesity has increased since 2014/15 in both reception (9.1% in 14/15) and year 6 (19.1% in 2014/15), with over a fifth of children (22.1%) in reception and a third (34.2%) in year 6 now overweight or obese.  Children living in the most deprived areas were twice as likely to be obese than those living in the least deprived areas, and boys were more likely to be obese than girls.       

The Prime Minister said she would review the national obesity strategy if its measures weren’t effective.  There isn’t a minute to lose.  Local authority budgets are under pressure – parks are being sold off and playgrounds closed.  Many children simply have nowhere to play.  This is a national disgrace and contravenes their fundamental human rights.   

The API’s mission is two-fold:

  • To convince policy makers of the benefits of play to children’s development, physical and mental health and well-being.
  • To provide high-quality facilities for play and physical activity that benefit local communities.   Find out more about the API’s #nowhere2play campaign here. 

Find out more about the API’s #nowhere2play campaign here

Mark Hardy, Chairman, Association of Play Industries.  
Follow me on Twitter:  api_chairUK
Date: 20 December 2016