23 September 2014
Re-Play for Play: policy makers’ engagement needed to improve play opportunities across Europe
Margaret Westwood, Board of the International Play Association (IPA)
Despite the universal nature of the drive to play, children and young people’s day to day experience of playing varies enormously across Europe. The Re-Play research conducted in eight European cities in 2013 identified some worrying trends (1). Slightly over two thirds of all 6 to 8 year old children would like to have more play spaces around their homes. Young people aged 9 to 11 most often lack places to hang out and meet friends near their home and nearly two thirds of teenagers surveyed identified this as a problem for them. Examples of further concerning trends were illustrated in the Re-play partner cities in Ireland and UK where it was noted that the current economic climate had led to decreased investment in play and leisure services and facilities.
- “It is crucial that policy and decision makers at all levels plan a cross-sector, strategic approach to play, particularly when considering housing, school and community infrastructure development”, Margaret Westwood
In Re-Play interviews, local politicians and policy makers, although reflecting different cultural backgrounds, recognised the importance of play and stated their willingness to promote policies that enhance play opportunities or provision.
Perhaps they would be persuaded by the recent report from the UK’s Play Policy Forum, ‘The Play Return’(2) , which found that there is enough empirical evidence for policy makers to be confident that initiatives that lead to improved play opportunities will also reliably lead to benefits to children’s development and well-being. It found clear and positive health benefits that arise from break times in schools for example while Re-Play noted that schools and teachers are in the privileged position of directly impacting the development and well-being of all children, therefore their role in promoting play should not be neglected.
Evidence from public space, supervised play and street play initiatives’ in particular points to benefits that reach beyond children themselves and into families and the wider community. Opinion polls in the UK showed that people place a high priority on improvements in play facilities and services for children and young people in their local area, and are more concerned about these than other services (3).
David Yearley, Head of Play Safety at The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said:
‘Creating better play spaces in communities does not necessarily mean spending large sums of money on equipment. There are many examples of communities creating exciting, stimulating places for play where children feel safe. What we do need is to shine a light on good examples, great design and participation of children and families.’
Additionally, there are many sectors which have a huge impact on children’s play while not directly working for or with children, including transport, infrastructure, volume house builders and developers, and planners. It is therefore crucial that policy and decision makers at all levels engage with these sectors in order to improve play opportunities.
With these aspects in mind – the impact of austerity measures, the proven return from investment in play, the creativity of solutions that are in our hands – we would urge policy makers to listen closely to the experiences of children and young people across Europe, to work closely with the Children’s Commissioners and Ombudspeople to understand children’s play rights in their locations, and to support the development of national plans for play.
(1) The survey ‘Perception of the right to play’ interviewed children, adults, local decision makers and civil society and identified good practices in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania and the United-Kingdom. http://re-play.eu/wp-content/upload…
Margaret Westwood works for the City of Edinburgh Council and leads on Play Strategy for the city. She has been a member of the Board of the International Play Association (IPA), a membership-based association with members in 50 countries around the world, since her election as Secretary in 2005. Margaret was a co-author of the ‘Re-play – Raising awareness of the value of play’ survey report, representing IPA as an associate partner on the European Commission funded project in a voluntary capacity.