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News and Insight

Let the children play

The UK’s leading bodies concerned with children’s outdoor play have joined together in a concerted effort to ensure that community play areas remain open as Covid restrictions tighten around the country. 

Chair of the Association of Play Industries, Mark Hardy, was a guest speaker at Play England’s seminar last Friday – Let the children play: the importance of playgrounds. “It’s hard to overstate the vital role that playgrounds play in children’s physical and mental health,’ he said. “Playgrounds are the number one place that children play outdoors and without them children will experience the hardships of lockdowns much more acutely.  One in eight UK households has no outside space and without public playgrounds these children would effectively be under house arrest.”

The seminar explored the best ways to ensure playgrounds stay open through the coming months.  Professor of Risk Management at Middlesex University, David Ball, highlighted the balance of risks, concluding that the risks to children of not playing were far greater than the risks posed by COVID. Transmission from children to adults is proven to be small and the risk posed by children contracting the virus from surfaces is widely thought to be negligible, he said.

Play England Chief Executive, Anita Grant, added: “Play England have been aware throughout the pandemic that children have been massively impacted by the restrictions resulting from COVID-19.  Our aim is to support Government, Local Authorities and play providers to ensure that access to play opportunities remain a priority for us all. 

“Through play, children explore their world, develop essential skills and build resilience. Play England’s webinars are being planned because it is vital that the whole community work together to mitigate the effects of recent events on children and young people and that decision-makers and managers get up-to-date information and practical ideas about how to keep playgrounds open.”

Psychologist Dr Helen Dodd outlined the risks to children of not playing outdoors on their mental health, outlining how playgrounds offer huge benefits, particularly for the most disadvantaged.  Research shows that children with mental health problems are twice as likely to have not played outdoors at all in the previous week.

“With common-sense risk assessments there is no reason whatsoever why playgrounds should close again,” said Mark Hardy. “Children, who have suffered so much this year, need public playgrounds more than ever.  Outdoor play reduces stress and anxiety, increases a sense of control, protects against mental ill-health and boosts physical wellbeing.

“Any set of COVID restrictions should not include the threat of playground closures.  We know that transmission of the virus is far less outdoors and we know the profound need that children have for outdoor play.

“Children need somewhere that’s theirs to play throughout this and playgrounds are so often the hub of a community,” he added. “Playgrounds are great levellers, providing the social interaction so necessary for mental health and normal development.

“We would urge all communities to do all they can to ensure their playgrounds stay open.  Whilst a welcome by-product of the crisis has been a renewed appreciation for our parks and playgrounds – and recognition of the importance of children’s free, outdoor play – Local Authorities’ funding is now tight.”

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