This week Playing Out presented oral evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into children and the built environment, held by the select committee for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and proposed by us and fellow advocates Tim Gill, Dinah Bornat and Fields in Trust.
The committee wanted to hear more about the importance of outdoor space to children’s health and well-being and “to find out more about how children and young people experience outdoor spaces in towns, cities and rural areas across England. What policy interventions from local and central government could help to deliver streets, estates, villages, neighbourhoods and parks that enable kids to enjoy active outdoor lifestyles and engage with others?”
So our co-founder Alice Ferguson, alongside other brilliant expert witnesses, told them, with evidence:
Children’s physical and mental health is at a crisis point, especially for those facing inequalities.
Being outside with friends is vital for physical activity, learning new skills, socialisation, independence, a sense of belonging, resilience – and happiness.
Space close to home – doorstep play – is essential for this.
Children themselves want to play out. And parents want their children to have more outdoor play and freedom. They are worried about their children’s health and happiness.
What are the barriers to this?
We told them: that the biggest barrier to children being outside – gradually worsened since our growing up – is the environment itself:
Traffic is a major barrier. Cars have more than doubled, driver behaviour has changed, and streets are no longer shared spaces.
Communities are also less connected, and children are less visible.
All these barriers contribute to parent fear and a culture change whereby children are far more indoors, inactive, not with friends, and on screens.
Are children affected equally?
All children are affected. As ever, children with the least are affected the most: no gardens, social housing, no money for extra clubs or classes, no car to get to destination parks, and no adult available to take them. And this is reflected in physical activity levels and health outcomes which are “terrifying” for some of the poorest children, according to the Royal College of Paediatrics.
What needs to change?
We collectively said: that if we can address the environmental factors and help children to play out and socialise close to home, it would be a game changer for children’s health and well-being, as well as hugely beneficial for communities of all ages.