The least we can do is give children the space to play
Yesterday, Chris Leslie, MP for Nottingham East, drew fresh attention to an issue that many may be unaware of. The number of playgrounds in the UK is dwindling at an alarming rate and, if we’re not careful, these free, local and safe spaces for children to play in could be lost forever.

Mr Leslie called for urgent research into the state of UK playground provision and the link with childhood obesity and mental health problems. In a televised debate (starts at 11:00:49) in Westminster Hall, Mr Leslie outlined several requests for the Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Rishi Sunak, to consider.

Alongside a well overdue investment of £100 million to reverse the downward trend in playgrounds found in the API’s Nowhere To Play report, Mr Leslie asked the Minister to prioritise play and playgrounds by commissioning research to drive public policy and to ensure that children’s voices are represented.

Playgrounds are integral to communities, so much so that over the years they have been taken for granted. That children have somewhere to play has been a given for as long as I can remember. Until now.

Across the UK, Local Authorities report that funding is so restricted they are having to make some very tough choices. Faced with maintaining schools, hospitals, social care and transport links on increasingly tight budgets, it’s parks, playgrounds and green spaces that are taking the hit.
But surely, as one of the richest countries in the world, we have the resources to provide children with somewhere to play. The rate at which we are losing playgrounds is shocking and very often, once a park or playground is closed it’s irreversible.

When did we start to consider the provision of play spaces a luxury rather than a necessity? I know first-hand the positive effect a stimulating and well-loved playground can have on a community and the gap that’s felt once it’s gone.

Play is essential to children’s social, physical, mental and emotional development. Unstructured outdoor play, away from close adult supervision is vital if we are to raise a generation of fit and well-adjusted young people.

One-fifth of children are suffering from mental health problems and children being overweight or obese is becoming the norm. Playgrounds aren’t a silver bullet in solving these problems, but they are an important contribution to the active and sociable childhood most of us enjoyed and which prevented these issues.

There was much to welcome in Mr Sunak’s response and the government’s recognition of the importance of exercise and activity in children’s lives. But, as Mr Leslie emphasised, play itself needs to be acknowledged, almost as a separate but related issue. If we don’t push play to the top of the political agenda – free, outdoor child’s play – it’s in danger of being replaced with highly organised sports and hobbies.

Schools and parents all have a role in ensuring children are active but it’s important we don’t organise activities too much. Children’s lives are already highly structured - they need time to just ‘be’ and, more often than not, if you allow children the chance to do this, they’ll play. It is through play that children learn about others, the world around them and about themselves. The least we can do is give them spaces to do just that.

Mark Hardy, Chairman Association of Play Industries. 
Follow me on Twitter api_chairUK
Date: 22 March 2018




15 years ago API Association Manager, Deborah Holt (pictured), began her journey in the play industry. She tells us why campaigning for play is now more important than ever.

15 years ago, on the 2nd December I took up my new post with the Federation of Sports and Play Associations (FSPA). Where has that time gone? I wasn’t the API’s Association Manager then - my job was PA to the then Membership Manager who’s remit included the Play associations within the FSPA – but I was always interested in play and the role it has in children’s lives.

Now, as a grandparent of children at primary school, I see first-hand how fundamental play is to them – it’s how they learn and grow. Some of the most vivid memories of my daughter growing up are when she was playing, and as a child I would play outside every day. Play was, and is, an integral part of my family’s life.

Needless to say, I’ve found the last 12 years managing the API - an organisation with play at its heart – very rewarding. The API exists not just to drive up standards in the industry but also to champion play itself. However, in my 15 years in the industry, I have never known a time when campaigning about play is as vital as it is now.

Since my childhood and even my daughter’s, I have seen a marked change in how children use their ‘down’ time. First, as most parents will tell you, children’s lives are dominated by technology. Social media means that there’s now much less need for them to go out and meet their friends face-to-face.

Secondly, the culture of ‘playing out’ has all but died out. Parents often cite traffic, much heavier than it was in their childhood, as a reason for not allowing their children to play out, and increased media coverage of things like knife crime and child exploitation fuels parents’ worries about children’s safety.

Thirdly, the opportunities for children to play, move and be active have shrunk dramatically. Kids get transported to and from school and hobbies instead of walking, and schools, under pressure to perform academically, have pushed PE to the bottom of their priorities.

But it was the API’s Nowhere2Play report that was the real eye-opener for me. When we asked local authorities about their play provision what we found was truly shocking. API’s research revealed an alarming decline in playgrounds in England and, when LAs were asked about their future plans, they told us that more playground closures are set to take place.

What all this means is that the kind of active, free, playful and sociable childhood that I enjoyed doesn’t exist anymore. Children are either supervised to within an inch of their lives when they are being active, or their time is spent sedentary, alone and isolated. 

Active, free play used to be second nature for children – it was easy to be active and play was woven into everyday life. Now it’s much harder for kids to go out and play and probably feels like a bit of an effort. The result is that children are getting fatter and more miserable, with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression on the rise.

Here at the API we will carry on campaigning for play to be reinstated as a fundamental part of childhood. Children are being deprived of the right to play and the effects of this will, I believe, be felt for generations unless we tackle it now. The Nowhere2Play campaign has received a massive amount of support and media coverage so far, so I know I’m not alone! 


Date: 02 December 2018



API's Independent Chair, Mark Hardy, discusses his two years supporting the play industry and tells us why the Nowhere2Play campaign is so important.

You’re passionate about the importance of play – why is that?

As a kid I loved to play. I spent all my free time out in the streets, fields and playgrounds with my friends simply exploring, playing and having fun. I hark back to those days and feel that children today are missing out on those experiences. I think society as a whole would be a lot better if we could get back some of the freedoms and opportunities to play that I had as a kid.

You know the old adage - you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone? The API’s Nowhere2Play report has uncovered an alarming decline in playground provision in England. This downward trend is happening fast and let’s not forget that once you lose a park the chances are it’s gone forever. These spaces – vital for our mental and physical health and for community cohesion – have perhaps been taken for granted and if we lose them we will regret it.

Nowhere2Play - are you pleased with what it’s achieved so far?
We had unprecedented national press coverage for our Nowhere2Play campaign when it first launched in April. It seemed to resonate and people engaged with it. It's the first time an API campaign has managed to get into the mainstream press and the fact the campaign was covered so extensively was a great achievement for the whole team.

Then the campaign was interrupted by the general election which meant we didn’t get chance to follow it up. We are therefore looking forward to re-engaging and driving the campaign forward in October.

We’re at a pivotal moment in the ongoing national drive to protect our parks, playgrounds and green spaces. Fields in Trust will be publishing research soon showing, for the first time at national level, a direct link between public parks and green spaces and health and wellbeing. And the government has formed the Parks Action Group to explore options to ensure parks can be enjoyed for generations to come. I believe we now have a real chance to make a significant impact.

What would your ideal outcome be for the Nowhere2Play campaign?
My ideal outcome is simple; increased funding for play areas across the country. Access to safe and free areas to play is essential for a healthy and happy childhood, as fundamental as getting enough sleep and having a good diet. Playgrounds are especially important in deprived areas where, for many children, they represent their only opportunities to be active and socialise with peers. Without them we are driving children indoors, onto their screens and away from each other.

If we fail to provide these spaces we are fuelling the childhood obesity epidemic and increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Playgrounds are a vital tool in tackling inactivity. More and more research shows that children are generally moving much less than they used to, establishing unhealthy behaviours which endure into adulthood.

What are the API’s most notable achievements over the last two years?
Aside from Nowhere2Play, the expansion of our Executive Committee has been a very positive development. We’ve added more representation from smaller companies and play companies, not just manufacturers, and we now have more women on the committee. It’s a much more diverse and representative team for our members.

What aspect of the API are you personally most proud of?
I think seeing us engage with the members, hearing what they want us to do and then delivering on that is the most satisfying aspect of what the API has been doing.

What has been the biggest challenge in your time as Chair?
We have a very committed and passionate executive committee which is what we need. But the flip side of this is that trying to get this very diverse team to agree can, at times, be a bit like herding cats! However, despite this and other challenges we’ve worked collaboratively, prioritising our resources in the best interests of our members.

For more information on Nowhere2Play campaign please email deborah.holt@api-play.org

Follow API on twitter #Nowhere2play @apiplay

Mark Hardy, Chairman Association of Play Industries. 
Follow me on Twitter api_chairUK
Date: 24 October 2017


Nowhere2play campaign – my journey 

API Association Manager, Deborah Holt, looks back to 13th April when Nowhere2Play was published triggering a media storm and tells us how we can all get behind the campaign in the run up to the general election.

Thursday 13th April 2017 saw our Nowhere to Play report published, highlighting the alarming decline in playgrounds across England.  And what a day it was! 

As you can imagine, pulling something like this together takes a lot of time and commitment from many people. 
Our Chairman, Mark Hardy, worked tirelessly liaising with key contacts and influencers, taking advice on the tone of the report and the best time to launch.  Maundy Thursday was our ‘D’ day!

The decision to launch Easter weekend was a fortuitous one; we had originally planned to launch on 22nd April but it was a good job we didn’t as Theresa May called a General Election that week. As good as we think we are, I am pretty sure even we would not have been able to compete.

For me personally, my lovely graphical timeline was subsequently screwed up and put in the bin. But as a little sign on my desk says: ‘sometimes you’ve just got to put your head down and weather the storm’. So - the challenge was on!

The night before the report was published, I had to stay awake until midnight to launch the PR and webpages.  Fast track to 12:01 Thursday 13th April, trying to keep awake to press the button was a bit difficult - my husband actually informed me I was late as it was 12:03!

All was in place - the press had been given embargoed copies of the report and PR and we had all our endorsements from key influencers – so it was lights, camera, action……

About 5am I checked my phone and googled ‘playground closures’ …. (don’t judge me reaching for the phone before getting out of bed! I know I am not alone!)   We had done it! Our PR was in the national press.  First port of call then (after getting ready for work, of course) was the newsagents, and arms full of newspapers I headed into work.

It was so very exciting. I spread the papers out on the desk for all to see and it hit home – we had actually made it into the national press!!!!! It was such an achievement for the API – something we’ve been aiming towards for a long time. 

The day just got more exciting by the second - calls from journalists, radio stations and TV, liaising with Mark - whose head must have been spinning with all the media attention.  He was interviewed by numerous radio stations and we almost got to feature on Good Morning Britain but sadly that fell through at the very end of the day.

FSPA colleagues helped filter the calls and assisted with the huge social media interest.  We even managed to get Mumsnet on board with their 140k twitter followers.   We all have great experiences over our working life, but the buzz in the office that day was incredible, something I have never experienced before.  The boss even made me a cup of tea!!!

There is much left to do.  As we head into the General Election and we have canvassers knocking on our doors, just ask them about the 100s of playgrounds closed and set to close in the next few years.  Ask them about the NHS bill and if they understand that a small investment into play provision could help with the obesity crisis by encouraging our children to ‘get out and play, become physically active and see their health and wellbeing will improve.

I am a mum of one and nanna to two beautiful children and I just want the very best for their future health and happiness. Let’s play! 

Follow us on twitter #Nowhere2play @apiplay

Date: 01 June 2017


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



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