1 Apr 2015

What stops children playing in the streets these days?

Ukip leader Nigel Farage says he wants to return to a time when children played football in the streets in the evening. But what is stopping them playing there now?

Children playing in the street (courtesy London Play)

Speaking on Tuesday about his plans to limit immigration, Mr Farage said “I want to live in a community where our kids play football in the streets of an evening and live in a society that is at ease with itself.”

But what is stopping children playing outside now?

Children playing in the street (courtesy London Play)

Mumsnet CEO Justine Roberts told Channel 4 News:

“It’s a great shame that mums are anxious about outdoor play to the point of keeping their kids in front of the TV, but it’s also easy to become misty-eyed about a Hovis advert past, when tiny children were able to roll tins down cobbled streets all day.

“Truth is, the biggest fear on Mumsnet is about road accidents, and that’s an understandable concern.”

We’ve never heard of anyone saying that immigration is a reason that they don’t let their kids play out Fiona Sutherland, London Play

This is a view echoed by the charity London Play, which aims to get more children playing outside in the capital.

It helps residents to establish what are known as play streets, where the council gives permission for a weekly or monthly closure of the road to allow children to play, typically for a couple of hours after school or at the weekend. In the 1950s there were some 700 play streets across England. Now there are around 150.

Children playing in the street (courtesy London Play)

Fiona Sutherland of London Play told Channel 4 News that the main reason parents do not let children play in the street is traffic. The next most important factor is “exaggerated perceptions of stranger danger – and the fact that there aren’t other kids on the street makes that more of a problem.

Bad parents?

However the flip-side of the stranger danger fear is the fear of being seen to be a bad parent.

In an opinion poll of 1,000 parents done on behalf of the England-wide scheme Play Day in 2013, 28 per cent of parents said they felt that their neighbours would judge them negatively if they let their children play outside unsupervised. Over a third worried about children making a noise and upsetting neighbours.

Playing safely outdoors is recognised as a way of countering childhood obesity, and a scheme to expand the number of play streets has received funding from the Department of Health.

Community cohesion

But the charities involved believe that there are much wider benefits – that such schemes improve community cohesion and neighbourhood safety because adults tend to come outside more when their children are playing together on the street, meaning neighbours meet each other and are more likely to recognise who is a stranger and who is not, whilst increasing the “neighbourhood watch” effect, making streets safer for residents.

Fiona Sutherland told Channel 4 News: “In our experience kids playing out on the street enhances understanding between neighbours whatever their origin or background.

“We’ve never heard of anyone saying that immigration is a reason that they don’t let their kids play out.”

(All pictures in this article courtesy London Play)