The Sheffield Green Spaces Forum

Playing Out Like We Used To Do


Children need and have the right to play outdoors. Play Streets across the country are ensuring this. Now in 2017, there are 501 streets across the UK, who ‘playout’ in over 40 towns and cities. Edinburgh and Cardiff are piloting street play schemes. Whilst in Birmingham Active Streets is going strong, Nottingham has recently launched its scheme and new streets are springing up in Sheffield and Cambridgeshire. Even further afield, the street play movement has spread to Europe.

For many adults, the term ‘playing out’ will conjure up memories of mates knocking on doors asking parents whether or not their child/children could leave the house to come out to play, and with it, the freedom, anticipation and excitement that playing out brought. Every day was different, filled with ‘mucking about’ with friends from surrounding streets, full of skies, games, sports, building dens, talking, grass, dares, allegiances, falling out, brilliant ideas, practicing things, bikes and boredom and nearly every other emotion. It was the miniature world of mini beasts and flora and the biggest world of adventures, where we were anything we wanted to be.

Research into today’s children’s lives shows that children are spending far less time outdoors than any previous generation ever did before. Children today are trapped by the barriers of ‘stranger danger’, traffic danger, and other health and safety fears. They live increasingly structured and organised lives, with decreasing access to green space; and, are now redirected to indoor entertainment, or structured ‘development’ activities.

Being restricted indoors has changed and lessened children’s relationship with the natural world. But there are many working to redress this, nationally and close to home. 

Initiatives such as Project Wild Thing; the National Trust50 things to do before you’re 113/4’ and the Wildlife Trusts annual 30 Days Wild campaign each June have helped encourage families to get out and about together. Closer to home, the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust’s ‘Nature Counts initiative encourages children to get outside recordingthe wildlife around them – counting everything they see, from hedgehogs and otters to birds and bumblebees. Back indoors, the new What on Earth displays at Weston Park Museum reveal just how fun and inspiring the natural world can be and offer a great starting point for children to explore their local environmentManchester Art Gallery is currently hosting a photographic exhibition of Shirley Baker’s documentation of post-war streets in Manchester and Salford which includes images promoting children playing out. 

Today in the UK, only 21% of children play out freely near their homes compared to 71% of adults who say they used to. Over the last few decades the area in which they are free to play and roam has reduced extensively by almost 90%.

Health research too highlights that the freedom to play outside has had a massive impact on children’s physical health as well as on their learning and social development, with reductions in their sense of independence, confidence, and their experience of community. Their problem solving, creativity, imagination, conflict resolution skills have been restricted due to them no longer being allowed to roam, seek, observe, discover, test out and collect.

Sheffield needs more play streets.