Playing Out, a grass-roots organisation that aims to enable children to safely play outside their front doors, was co-founded by neighbours Alice Ferguson, 45, and Amy Rose in 2009.
Ferguson and Rose, from Bristol, wanted to get the space outside their houses blocked from cars, so kids could play freely and get to know other children nearby.
What started off as an individual action, has now turned into a nationwide movement, with more than 500 streets taking part in the UK.
“It wasn’t normal or acceptable for kids to play outside at the time,” Ferguson told HuffPost UK. “To get the road blocked off, you had to apply to the cancel each time you wanted to do it and put a letter through every door on the street.”
Before Playing Out started their campaign, to get a street closed off from cars in Bristol you would need to apply for a Street Party Licence from the local council - you would have to go through this process each time and residents could only apply for a one off license a maximum of three times a year.
Ferguson and her neighbours ran a pilot where they supported six streets in their area to do one-off sessions where they applied to get their road closed and allowed children to play outside.
“We literally just closed the road for cars and let the kids play in a child-led, natural way,” said Ferguson.
“During this pilot, the cabinet member for health from Bristol City Council, councillor Jon Rogers, came and he saw it in action. He said it was genius.
“It was low cost, resident-led and a way to get kids physically active.”
It was this pilot that got the ball rolling to make street closures a more regular occurrence, with less hassle to apply.
The cabinet minster was able to push a model through the council that enabled this and, despite some resistance concerning traffic flow, the council was won around.
Off the back of this, a new process called a ‘Temporary Play Street Order’ was introduced.
This allowed residents to close their roads for up to three hours a week, and they would only have to apply once for a whole year. Ferguson said the council became champions of the idea and promoted it to other local authorities.
It was around this time Rose and Ferguson set up Playing Out to make a hub for other parents who were keen on the idea.
It was low cost, resident-led and a way to get kids physically active." Alice Ferguson, co-founder of Playing Out
The procedure was simple and worked well. In Ferguson’s area the road would be closed for around two hours a week. There would be two adults at each end of the street to a) redirect traffic and b) monitor residents who wanted to drive in or out.
“Our streets are an extension of our home,” Ferguson added. “They are the public space that is immediately accessible to our children.
“The children all loved it.”
For the next five years, Ferguson and her neighbours carried on closing their street - sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly - to allow their kids to play outside. By this time, many other streets in the UK had picked up on the idea too.
Now Ferguson’s kids have grown up, she’s still committed to ensuring other children get the opportunity to play outside.
The new licence model is now used in more than 500 streets across the UK, and within more than 60 local authorities.
And the mum is committed to the idea being a vehicle of social change in the community, so that it can one day be considered “normal” for kids to play outside without having to worry about safety.
“This is now being used by thousands of people across the country and our aim is to keep growing,” she added. “We want to grow to the point where it becomes normal.
“This model is just one step towards normalising street play.”
Find out more about Playing Out here.