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Stop The Traffic! Living On Britain's First Play Street

15/06/2012 09:51 | Updated 22 May 2015
Living on Britain's first play streetRex Features

Every Monday at 4pm my street takes on a whole new life. A 'road closed' sign is erected and bunting is hung over some bins at each end of the road to act as a barrier. For an hour and a half the children from the 60 or so houses take over the street. With the help of adults acting as stewards, they are free to play in the middle of the road.

My five-year-old daughter Amelia is learning to ride her bike without stabilisers and she gets to do it right outside my front door. The sound of kids playing in the street is so unusual these days; it feels like a blast from the past.

Now if you are reading this with a view of cows outside your kitchen window and the chirping of birds in your ear then this might not seem like a very big deal.

But if like me, you live in the middle of a city on a street of terraced houses, this is probably more significant.

The closing of our road is part of a scheme called 'Playing Out' and my road in Bristol was the first in the country to gain temporary play street status.

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For 90 minutes weekly the lorries have to take another route and the children bring out chalk, scooters, bikes and skipping ropes.

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Footballs and huge games of catch have become the norm.

Living on Britain's first play streetPlayingout.net

The idea is the brainchild of two local mums, Alice Ferguson and Amy Rose. The scheme, which is now nationwide, helps residents organise temporary residential road closures for children to play outside after school.

"I have strong memories of playing in the cul de sac where we lived as a child and I wanted my children to experience something similar," explains mum-of-two Alice.

These days it is much less common; a 2007 poll found that 71 of children today. (Play England). Predictably the main issue is traffic.

"When you're in a city the chance to play directly outside your house is unusual yet the children gain so much from it," she adds.

"We wanted our street to become more than just a car park. The problems of overweight, sedentary children are growing and giving them the chance for regular, semi-supervised outdoor play in their own street is one powerful solution to this.

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It also helps children to feel part of the place they are living in and connected to those around them.

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That is certainly a huge bonus for mum of three children under four, Emily: "My kids know all the neighbours now – it has given them a kind of ownership of their street. It really adds to their sense of local community."

And for Emily it's also a chance to meet neighbours too; "When you are busy with work and family, it can be easy to feel isolated from those that we actually live nearest to but playing out in our street has helped remove some of those boundaries."

Inevitably there are some detractors – teething problems have included speeding cyclists and slightly reticent motorists on occasion but on the whole it has been really welcomed. Some older residents like the idea so much that they help with stewarding, even though they no longer have young children themselves.

What I love most is that new relationships are forming all the time. Both my girls love the older kids. And those older children seem to thrive on having younger ones to look after.

I thought my daughters were going to burst with happiness the other day when a Year 6 girl came and called on them as a result of knowing them at Playing Out. When you're aged five and three, life doesn't get much cooler than that.

For more information on Playing Out visit www.playingout.net

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