The last extraordinary few weeks have brought about a renewed appreciation for so many aspects of our lives. As our day-to-day has been stripped back to basics in a way that none of us could have imagined, much of what we took for granted has disappeared. We are seeing with fresh eyes what was always right in front of us and feeling the loss of those things we thought were constants.
Community playgrounds are amongst those most fundamental of things that we are so keenly missing during lockdown. TES Deputy Editor and father of two Ed Dorrell has described in his excellent article how the absence of playgrounds has left an enormous hole in his family’s life, saying: “The right to a breath of fresh air and a run around has never seemed so profound.”
With children in lockdown and playgrounds closed, we are experiencing a world where millions of children have nowhere to play outside, albeit temporarily. We all know that the right to access safe outdoor play provision is essential for children’s wellbeing, but we are now living the reality of life without it, witnessing its effects and fearing for our children’s mental and physical health.
The sad fact is, however, that UK children living in urban areas have been experiencing an alarming reduction in their opportunities for outdoor play well before our current crisis. Many children, particularly those in the UK’s most deprived areas, have been living their own kind of lockdown, so alarming has been the decline in the number of public playgrounds. Cash-strapped local authorities have been forced to close or neglect hundreds of playgrounds throughout the UK.
Free to access, public playgrounds bring about an equality for children as important as access to free education and healthcare. Not all families have gardens and for those children with limited or no outdoor space they are a lifeline. If we didn’t know how important playgrounds were before Covid-19, we do now. Free outdoor play is not a ‘nice to have’, it’s non-negotiable and something that all children have the right to take for granted.
When finally we emerge blinking from this crisis and appraise its impact, it is my sincere hope that children’s right to free-to-access outdoor play provision gets the investment it so desperately needs. The pandemic has brought about much pain and loss and reached into all our lives. But as a nation we have had an awakening; Covid-19 has forced us to reappraise what we really need and a world where children can’t play outside is not an option.
There will, of course, be considerable economic fall-out from the crisis and it remains to be seen how this will be managed in the years to come. But certainly now, the groundswell of opinion seems to be that we can never again short-change those basic services and facilities upon which we all so fundamentally rely.
The suffering brought about by Covid-19 is undeniable, but if it is the catalyst for a realignment of priorities it will at least have left something positive behind. The lockdown is tough on everyone with children no exception; however there is an opportunity to correct the massive under-investment in public playgrounds and safeguard children’s mental and physical health for generations.
The API has made a written submission to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry, Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors, detailing the immediate and medium-term impact of play space closures. As well as the obvious effects on children’s mental and physical health, the ways in which the lockdown is affecting our members has been outlined, including the difficulties many are experiencing accessing the government grants and loans put in place to support businesses.
The API has also urged the committee to restore spending in the sector to at least pre-covid levels once restrictions are lifted and expressed the hope that the renewed recognition of community playgrounds caused by the lockdown means that our small but vital industry is not overlooked.
The API campaigns for increased investment in community playgrounds. See our Play Must Stay campaign here.