This year we’re celebrating 35 years of the Association of Play Industries. Our trade association was originally formed to bring the play sector together, to unite play businesses around one common aim – to drive up standards and work together for the good of the industry.
Since those days so much has been achieved, growing from half a dozen members then to almost 60 now. Our primary objectives remain the same – to continually drive up standards ensuring the highest quality play provision, and to support and grow the market on behalf of our members.
However, now there are additional challenges we face that we couldn’t have envisaged 35 years ago. Back then, that children went outside to play in their local playground, more often than not without adult supervision, was a given. It was, quite simply, what children did.
Fast forward to 2019 and we have an entire generation of children for whom the norm is not to play outside, a generation of screen-dependent young people who spend their time indoors, alone, not moving and not socialising in person.
This generation is growing up without access to a safe, well-maintained and stimulating play space in their neighbourhood because playgrounds are being neglected and shut down at such a rate that it should frighten us all.
Because of these and other factors, many children leaving primary school have the highest levels of body fat on record. Rates of child Type 2 diabetes and mental illness are also the highest in our history. Children now sleep less and have the highest level of admissions to NHS hospitals for sleep disorders. Young children have never moved so little.
As Chair of the API, I find myself heading up an organisation which is facing new, more nebulous challenges – how on earth do we as a trade body begin to tackle issues such as children’s excessive screen use and the austerity which has resulted in mass playground closures?
The remit of the API is no longer so simple, and the scope of our work is now much broader. Of course, the reason we exist is to protect and promote the industry, but without challenging issues like excessive screen time and playground closures, the risk is that there won’t be an industry to protect.
I don’t believe that this is an overstatement – when a playground closes it is rarely replaced and is lost forever. However, I and others in the industry remain optimistic and will continue to campaign so that this generation has access to local, high quality playgrounds and play spaces.
I believe there is a growing groundswell of opinion in our favour – millions of parents around the UK are worried about how little their children move, how seldom they go outside to play. Many others are concerned about their communities, seeing beloved playgrounds fall into disrepair or close.
Children are hardwired for outdoor play. They need it for healthy physical, emotional, social and cognitive development. With it they thrive, and everybody knows this. We, as the Association of Play Industries, need to shout very loudly about this. In this our 35th year, we will continue to campaign and lobby at the highest levels for renewed and urgent investment in playgrounds.