Why Calderdale councillor is pursuing Play Streets programme to help children

If playing out is a memory of childhoods past, the time is right to make it real again in the modern age.

A councillor who has lobbied his council for three years to take up the challenge following the success of a pioneering programme in Bristol believes playing out not only brings physical and mental health benefits to the children who enjoy it, but also to their parents, carers, neighbours and ultimately whole communities.

Calderdale councillor Ashley Evans (Lib Dem, Warley) is encouraged that the council might drive the project forward in the borough, helping provide a framework in which for periods of time children can be enabled to play safely.

In December last year the council’s Cabinet agreed to back play street proposals – which will after consultation include street closures at some times in some neighburhoods – and put the issue before full council for approval.

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Coun Ashley Evans, in Warley, for Play Streets

After January’s council meeting the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown means the proposal has been on ice but Coun Evans is hopeful the issue will move up the agenda now meetings are up and running in virtual form.

It is timely because some of the good things which have come out of the very difficult situation forced by the pandemic are an appreciation of being able to go outside when allowed and neighbours getting to know each other again, visible at Clap For The NHS sessions and chats over the garden fence.

Coun Evans recalled in his own childhood in Nottinghamshire “we would play out as often as possible”, chalking hopscotch courts and playing French cricket.

He isn’t alone as many others have similar memories but over the decades things seem to have changed.

“Over the years there has been a rise in the traffic and a rise in concerns about the safety of children being out and about.

“It’s been exacerbated in recent years with social media seeing young people Facebooking and Tik Toking,” said Coun Evans, adding that social media was affecting mental health issues.

But with Calderdale looking to improve children’s health outcomes, and support from key Cabinet members including Coun Scott Patient (Lab, Luddenden Foot), who holds the climate change and environment portfolio, and Coun Adam Wilkinson (Lab, Sowerby Bridge), who has the Cabinet’s children’s services brief, other positive outcomes are also likely, he said.

Once a council has cleared the legal path, allowing for road closures, the Bristol model saw community groups contacted and encouraged to get involved in discussions about how the safe play places and times develop, said Coun Evans.

One of the benefits of Play Streets is that the schemes are not only excellent for the children, addressing safety while they play, but also the wider community, he said.

“We need to promote it, it is great for socialising and friendship.

“It is selling the idea and then it is providing the support and help – they will need equipment, cones, hi-vis vests and the like, and cars will need marshalling cars in and out.

“All that needs planning of course, but it is doable – strike while the iron’s hot,” said Coun Evans.

Other help included local groups, including groups of residents, being able to apply for ward forum grants where up to £500 can be made available, he said.