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Reigniting community spirit through a little street play

Through the simple gesture of giving priority to children rather than to cars, and enabling children to freely play on their street, a Bristol neighbourhood has been reconnected, reigniting community spirit and leading to a host of positive outcomes.

Photo of Philip Man
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Playing out was started by two mother from Bristol (UK) keen to give their children a taste of the simple freedom they themselves had enjoyed growing up, decided to ask their local council for a temporary closure of their street to travel to allow kids from their neighbourhood to safely play outside for a couple of hours after school.

They hoped to make the point and get to know their neighbours better. 3 years later, with more than 30 streets in Bristol and beyond replicating their Playing Out sessions, a busy website and Facebook page, they also seemed to have created a movement. 

"In the short term, I wanted for Eva and Amos [now 11 and six] to be outside letting off steam, playing with who they wanted. I worried about their lives being so indoors and sedentary. In the longer term I wanted them to grow up with a sense of citizenship and belonging, able to interact with people of different ages and be part of a community." (Alice Ferguson, co-founder of Playing Out)

The success of Playing Out provides evidence that despite occasional doom-laden prophecies to the contrary, children have not forgotten how to play. Children are relishing the opportunity to show adults – who are usually "too bossy" – that they can be responsible without overbearing supervision. And even older residents are getting involved by coming out, stewarding traffic and joining their neighbours for tea. The initiative is drawing residents out of their homes to reconnect with their community out on the street.

It was enough to convince Bristol City Council not only to give Playing Out a grant to expand the scheme and run workshops for the many interested parents, but also to change its rules, creating Temporary Play Street Orders to close roads up to once a week if residents agree.

"We have somehow retreated from the streets and largely given that space up to cars. We need to make streets liveable again. It will take time but I think we can return to seeing children as belonging in their neighbourhoods. We can't expect them to feel respect for – and pride in – their communities if we don't."(Amy Rose, cofounder of Playing Out)


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