Stop for a minute. Close your eyes and think about your memories of playing as a child.
More likely than not, it was outdoors or in your local park. Yet children today are evermore glued to their iPhones, iPads or TV screens and if they do ‘play’, they are driven to a play date at someone’s house. How do we get children outdoors and playing again? In a bid to do this, Camden Council is operating a scheme called Play Streets and is also improving local parks.
Play Streets is a scheme by which a local road is closed to traffic for a period of time, with Camden-supplied signage and residents acting as marshals to ensure compliance. You can find more details here.
This year, residents of Narcissus Road are planning to join the Play Streets scheme. Initially, the plan is to close the road for one Sunday afternoon a month. Officers from Camden have visited the road and identified the section from Glenbrook to Pandora Road as suitable.
The next step is that residents need to get agreement from 70% of the street, then they will be good to go for this year.
The scheme is not new to West Hampstead. For the last two years, residents of Menelik Road have been running a play street on the last Sunday of the month from March to October. Julia Marcuson, who has organised it, said that apart from the delays in getting it started, which were frustrating, “it’s been very successful”.
Other than the play streets, Camden is also responsible for our local parks and is just finishing a renovation of the Iverson Road open space. This has suffered from inevitable delays but given that it’s been cold and wintry, this hasn’t caused to much trouble. There was consultation on the changes, but we will have to see how much more use the space will get this summer after more than £100,000-worth of renovations.
The same is true of the Sumatra Road open space, which also has been renovated. It was only a few years ago that it had £50,000 spent on it under a Labour government initiative to encourage more outdoor play. Although without much consultation, anecdotal evidence suggests that usage hasn’t increased that much (real data is impossible to come by, unfortunately) and it seems a shame to rip out all the equipment that wasn’t installed that long ago.
Down at Kilburn Grange, the adventure playground, which was only installed in 2010 – at a cost of £950,000 – was shut after six years. Camden current masterplan for the Grange involves tearing it down completely and building another one elsewhere in the park.
There are a couple of other local spaces that been improved recently: Mill Lane open space and Fortune Green. The Mill Lane space was improved as part of the rebuilding of Emmanuel School. It seems like a missed opportunity. It required some fairly extensive remedial works and Camden Parks department have said never again to large sand pits – which are popular with the local cats.
Fortune Green has been probably the most successful local parks improvement. This was led by a friends group [disclosure: I’m the chair], set up because of the poor state of the green. The friends weren’t overly ambitious and made it an aim to increase the simple open space for kids to run around, cycle, play football and just enjoy. Which they do. It has led to a significant increase in use of the space by all ages, including children. Especially the younger ones who use the ever popular playground at all times of the year.
The theme linking these initiatives is the degree of involvement of local parents in making things happen, getting involved and providing input and getting the best outcomes. Making play happen, it appears, requires some effort.