Play England was an initiative intended to increase children's physical activity and make the streets a safer place to play.
Problems and Purpose
The main purpose of the project was to create a safe play environment. The increase in motor traffic on streets has made it unsafe for children to play in the streets and parents are reluctant to allow them out of fear of an accident. One of the factors behind the project is the fact that road traffic accidents affect deprived areas disproportionately - children from the most disadvantaged areas are nearly 21 times more likely to be killed on the road. The Street Play project was an initiative that could work in more disadvantaged areas because there is minimum cost involved and the only thing required from residents is to volunteer their time.
The second purpose of the project was to combat the issue of growing childhood obesity. According to the report written by the University of Bristol and published by Play England ‘almost one in three UK children aged 2-15 years are classified as either overweight or obese.’ This has a knock-on effect with childhood obesity linked to adulthood obesity, the odds ratio for an overweight child becoming an overweight adult is 10.3 for 6-9 year olds and 28.3 for 10-14 year olds. The project was set up to help tackle this problem through early intervention because obesity related health problems are becoming one of the largest costs to the NHS, ‘projected to reach £49.9 billion annually by 2050.’ Physical activity is one of the best ways to prevent obesity but according to the Health Survey for England data ‘only 21% of boys and 16% of girls aged 5-15 years meet the physical activity guidelines in England of 60 minutes or more of moderate intensity [exercise] each day.’
Background History and Context
The vision of the ‘Street Play’ project was ‘’for every child to have the freedom to regularly play actively and independently in front of or near their own front door, contributing to a healthy lifestyle.’’
In 2009, Playing Out coordinated the first play street to help bring about a positive change for children’s play.  The concept of Street Play originated in South Bristol initiated by two residents. The idea spread and with the help of media coverage there were over 100 enquires from other residents across the country wanting play streets. This figure inflated to 300 resident enquiries in 2012 which lead to the 2013 project.
Street play is simply the ability for children to play out on the street where they live; the street is temporarily closed to all motor traffic for 2-3 hours. The ‘play’ is unstructured but generally comprises active forms of play outside on the street. These are also known as ‘play streets’ or ‘playing out sessions.’ The ‘Street Play’ project was run by Play England, a registered charity, in collaboration with Playing Out, London Play and the University of Bristol. The project ran for three years from April 2013 to March 2016 across England. These play sessions were facilitated by a Temporary Street Play Closure (TSPC), approved by the local Council, allowing the street to be closed to motor traffic, usually for three hours at a time. The TSPC’s occurred either as a one-off session, or at regular monthly or weekly intervals. The street has to be volunteered by the residents for a TSPC and it is normally the residents who then volunteer as stewards to maintain the TSPC on the day. The aim of the project was to measure the effect that street play has on the physical activity of children.
The project was very successful and TSPCs were used to close streets temporarily for play in 33 geographically diverse locations across England including 17 local authorities and 16 London boroughs. There are two different types of ‘street play:’ one-off street play sessions and regular TSPCs. One-off sessions were used for specific events or as a trial. In some cases there was insufficient support to set up the regular TSPCs.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The cost of the project is unknown but it is a low cost project because it is volunteer led. Play England and Playing Out were two of the main lobbyist groups along with the University of Bristol who funded the main report on the results of Street Play written by Play England along with support from the Department of Health.
There were a number of organisations involved which sponsored the work of Play England (a registered UK charity). The list can be found on their website here. Playing Out is also sponsored by funders and partners, found here.
The creative force behind the project were the residents who volunteered their streets for a Temporary Street Play Order (TSPO) and then helped to close the street from motor vehicles to allow the children to play. It cost nothing for the residents to volunteer or run a play street.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants were not selected as the project was volunteer led. The movement remains Bristol based by the funding provided by the Department of Health and the other sponsors but did spread to 33 different geographical locations across England over the three year period. The streets involved in the project were primarily residential terraced housing which still allowed a flow of traffic during the TSPC.
There was a degree of exclusion of streets with other forms of housing, such as high-rise tower blocks in city centres because logistically the TSPO was impractical in such scenarios. The residents who volunteered their streets and time also tended to be parents, and of course only children could actually play in the streets while the street was closed.
Methods and Tools Used
Know what methods or tools were used? Help us complete this section!
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The stakeholders were primarily the residents of the streets who stood to gain most benefit from the project. The four main organisers of the project all worked together to facilitate the closure of streets for play and to analyse the effect that this had on children’s health and the community. Within these groups, individuals deliberated over the effectiveness and conducted their own research on the outcome of the project. The decision to issue a TSPO belonged to the local authority but Play England and Playing Out provided resources and advice to help residents request the order. The local authorities also measured and reported on how successful the TSPC was so there was a cross-over between the advisory and monitoring bodies involved in the project.
Media campaigns were used to engage the public and encourage residents to volunteer their streets. However, word of mouth was also a huge factor in the engagement process. Schools and children’s centres also got involved to close streets – these had a much wider engagement with around 200 participants, and allowed children to simply walk out of the school gates and start playing straight on the street together. This was first pioneered in Hackney by Hackney Play in 2013 at the start of the project.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
From 2013-2016, 311 new streets were recorded as having put in place a TSPC, 25 streets already had one in place and 33 had a street closure but the timescale was unclear. 89% of TSPCs that occurred during the timeframe of the project have continued activity since the original TSPC. Only 11% of streets had no further activity. From April 2013 to February 2016 the local authority areas with the highest TSPCs were Bristol with 112, the London authorities with 109 overall and then Adur and Worthing with 24. Thus, there were some limits due to location over the influence of the project and the number of streets which successfully had a TSPC.
Generally, play streets did occur in deprived areas to try and combat the lack of usable green spaces but there were not enough TSPCs in the most deprived areas. On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the most deprived areas, 22% of the total TSPCs occurred in areas rated as 5. Areas with a deprivation rating of 4 recorded the highest number of total TSPCs at 27%. This is linked to the fact that street play is limited to the type of street and housing with the most deprived areas not always being able to or wanting to put in place a TSPO.
Since the end of the project there have been 660 regular streets with a TSPC recorded across 67 local authority areas until June 2018.
The project had a direct benefit on around 12,000 children. Children were outside for around 70% of the time the streets were closed during the TSPC and spent an average of 16 minutes per hour engaging in moderate-vigorous physical activity (MVPA). This is more than they would have spent on average on a regular day. There was a disparity in the time spent in MVPA between the genders, with girls spending significantly more time in sedentary play activities compared to boys during street play.
There was also an added benefit in the involvement of unexpected groups during the street play. For example, it helped to encourage the elderly to come out of their houses and participate with other residents, increasing a sense of community. The project built the sense of community in the streets and encouraged neighbours who had never spoken before to interact with each other.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The original Street Play was so successful it has been rolled out to the rest of the UK with the same aim to help children’s play and connect the community together. Similar projects have now been launched in Scotland and Wales with sister charities to Play England set up called Play Scotland and Play Wales.
The evaluation report provides evidence of the scalable intervention into children’s health and social well-being that street play offers. ‘Scalable intervention’ means that the project has the capability to work locally, nationally and internationally as minimal resources are required just residents who are willing to participate.
There remain limits on the lessons learned with a more longitudinal study needed to measure the physical effects of activity during street play. However, the study does provide good groundwork for this. Furthermore, additional studies on the impact of street play on the wider community could also provide even more reason for people to volunteer their street and time for street play. Tim Gill, an independent researcher and expert on childhood, conducted interviews with 21 people from 5 different local authorities who were involved in the project to evaluate the program and calculate its ability to be taken forward to the more disadvantaged areas of England. Whilst overall the street play initiative is highly successful, there remain challenges in rolling out the scheme to the most disadvantaged areas and streets which do not have a typical street layout. Thus, the street play model needs to be adapted for non-traditional housing designs (non-terraced streets) such as tower blocks or housing estates. Playing Out has since been experimenting with different models of street play and is looking to publish guidance on adapting the model soon.
Furthermore, the study showed that there is a gender gap between girls and boys over their level of MVPA which needs to be addressed – while the street play initiative is to allow children to participate in unstructured play on their street more can be done to try and ensure that both girls and boys meet the daily recommended 60 minutes of MVPA a day.
The work that Playing Out has done has been invaluable to the initiative in lobbying government interest groups and providing free resources for residents to use, for example risk assessments, steward briefings, and car notice templates. They also run a blog which residents involved in street play can participate with. Their campaign has also been crucial in spreading the word about street play and they have been involved in BBC films, Radio programs and other journalistic writings which has inspired other residents to campaign and volunteer for street play.
The ultimate lesson learned from the Street Play Project was that nation wide government legislation is needed to make playing out a normal regular activity in every street and help keep streets more child and pedestrian friendly to reduce the impact that motor vehicles have on childrens physical activity. However, in the meantime a practical solution is for all local authorities to get involved with such schemes and for more residents to volunteer their streets for TSPC.
 University of Bristol (2016). Why temporary street closures for play make sense for public health. [online] Play England. Available at: http://www.playengland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/StreetPlayReport1web-4.pdf [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018] p10.
 University of Bristol (2016) p7.
 University of Bristol (2016) p7.
 University of Bristol (2016).
 Playengland.org.uk. (2018). [online] Available at: http://www.playengland.org.uk/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
 Playing Out. (2018). Who We Are - Playing Out. [online] Available at: https://playingout.net/about/who-we-are/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
 Playengland.net. (2018). Street Play |. [online] Available at: http://www.playengland.net/what-we-do/street-play/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
 University of Bristol (2016) pp13 – 15.
 University of Bristol (2016) p20.
 University of Bristol (2016) p16.
 University of Bristol (2016) p18.
 Playing Out. (2018). Playing Out Story - Playing Out. [online] Available at: https://playingout.net/about/playing-story/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
 University of Bristol (2016) p5.
 University of Bristol (2016) p28.
 Gill, T. (2016). Street play initiatives in disadvantaged areas: experiences and emerging issues. [online] Play England. Available at: http://www.playengland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/StreetPlayReport2web.pdf [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018] p15.
 Gill, T. (2016). Street play initiatives in disadvantaged areas: experiences and emerging issues. [online] Play England. Available at: http://www.playengland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/StreetPlayReport2web.pdf [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018] p5.
 Playing Out. (2018). Playing Out on Estates - Playing Out. [online] Available at: https://playingout.net/how/playing-out-on-estates/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
Hackneyplay.org. (2018). School play streets | Hackney Play Association. [online] Available at: http://www.hackneyplay.org/playstreets/school-play-streets/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
Play Scotland. (2018). Play Scotland - Right to Play in Scotland. [online] Available at: http://www.playscotland.org/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
Playengland.org.uk. (2018). [online] Available at: http://www.playengland.org.uk/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
Play Wales. (2018). Play Wales | Our Work. [online] Available at: http://playwales.org.uk/eng/ourwork [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
Play England - http://www.playengland.org.uk/
Playing Out - https://playingout.net/
Play England 2016 Report (University of Bristol) - http://www.playengland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/StreetPlayReport1web-4.pdf