Access to public play spaces in the UK is unfair and unequal, according to new research.  A Freedom of Information survey carried out by the Association of Play Industries (API) has revealed that some UK regions have almost five times the free-to-access play provision of others.

The Association of Play Industries (API) is calling on the Government to level up the life chances of UK children by ensuring equal access for all to public play spaces. In the UK, public playgrounds are the number one location for children’s outdoor play.  Free, outdoor play is vital for children’s physical and mental health and without it normal childhood development is curtailed.

The vast majority of British children live in built-up urban areas, and those from the 1 in 8 UK households without a garden (1 in 5 in London), rely on public play areas for outdoor play and exercise.  For many children, community playgrounds are their only chance to get active and play outdoors.  Disabled children’s access to, and enjoyment from, playgrounds also needs to improve.

The research highlights the postcode lottery facing children and families, with some areas well-served and others seriously deprived of community play facilities.

  • Children in London have access to almost five times fewer public playgrounds than children in Scotland.
  • The West Midlands has the worst play provision in the UK with 929 children per playground. It also has the worst childhood obesity rates in England
    (Year 6).
  • London has the second worst play provision in the UK with 866 children per playground.
  • Every playground in the North-East and the North-West serves over 600 children, compared to just 196 in Scotland.
  • Welsh children enjoy access to over twice the number of playgrounds than children in London.


The API’s Equal Play campaign is calling for:

Ring-fenced central government funding for play, to enable local authorities to provide EVERY child with a safe,
high-quality playground nearby.


Despite the release of the government’s Levelling Up strategy last week, there was notably nothing specifically related to children’s health and wellbeing.  We are asking the government to allocate monies from the Levelling Up funds towards equal play; this simple ask would go a long way towards levelling up children’s play opportunities in the UK.

API Chair, Mark Hardy, says:

We are lobbying the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to provide local authorities with access to a national funding stream for public playgrounds so that every child has a safe, local, high-quality place to play every day. The Government’s Levelling Up agenda must include children’s access to outdoor play; it is fundamental for childhood development and millions of children are being disadvantaged by this postcode lottery.


Nationally, play provision is extremely patchy, with some areas well-served and others woefully lackingCash-strapped Local Authorities face increasingly difficult choices in how they allocate their budgets, and funding for outdoor play areas is often sacrificed in favour of other demands, particularly over the last two years.


“The closure of public play spaces during lockdown and the effects on children of Covid restrictions has brought about a renewed appreciation by the public of the importance of these community assets.  Providing all children with somewhere safe and local to play is a relatively inexpensive and simple public health measure and will help to help to tackle soaring childhood obesity rates and mental health issues – problems hugely exacerbated by the pandemic.”




Read the Letters to the PM and Ministers


Support the Equal Play campaign on social media by using the hashtag #EqualPLAY


Background Information:
The Association of Play Industries (API) carried out FOI requests in 2017 and 2018 that highlighted an alarming decline in the number of playgrounds and in the amount spent by Local Authorities on play provision: Nowhere To Play Campaign

An updated API FOI survey was commissioned to find out how many play areas exist and what Local Authorities’ plans are for 2020 and 2021. The results show that the number of play areas is no longer reducing and that the decline seems to have ‘bottomed out’.  However, the data clearly shows that it is a postcode lottery as to the number and quality of play areas children have access to in their local area.

A 2019 API survey of over 1100 parents showed that the vast majority of parents say that playgrounds are vital in getting children outdoors and active again.  9 out of 10 parents who were not close to a playground said that having access would make their child play outside more. Play Must Stay Campaign

In 2019, the API released A Movement for Movement showing, for the first time, a strong link between recreational screen time and children’s inactivity.


Notes to Editors:
The Association of Play Industries (API)  is the lead trade body within the play sector and campaigns at the highest levels for policy recognition for play. Its members are leading manufacturers, installers, designers and distributors of both outdoor and indoor play equipment and safety surfacing. Founded in 1984, the API represents 85% of the play industry.

The API operates under the umbrella of the Federation of Sports and Play Associations (FSPA), the national trade body responsible for representing Sports and Play Associations in the UK’s sport and play industries.

Media Contact

Mary Lubrano, Head of Communications.  For further information contact Mary on e: [email protected]  m: 07999 550452