June 18, 2012#

Reclaim the street

Playing Out by Cath Boutwood

Playing Out by Cath Boutwood

Guest Blog By Rob Greenland

No-one teaches you how to make hard decisions as a parent. You seem to spend your life treading the line between protecting and liberating – letting them go whilst keeping them close.

My son is six. We live in a suburban street in north Leeds. It’s not a through road but two or three cars pass by every minute. There are a fair few families with young kids here. And over a last few months some of them have started playing out.

We knew Francis was keen to join them. But we resisted for a while. Encouraged him to invite people into the house, or to play in the garden. The street felt too dangerous.

The kids use garden walls as goals, and the road as the pitch. But cars use the road as, well, a road. What if….? Well you know the conversation we were having with ourselves.

But we relented. What’s happened? We keep a bit of an eye on them all – as do the other parents. But most of the time we leave them to it.

The kids love it. And neighbours, a number of whom we’d never met before, are chatting to each other. Saying how it’s nice to see the kids out. Sharing their concerns about letting their kids play in the road. And, of course, just passing the time of day.

It’s got me thinking – how can we build on this? How can we make our street a safer street? A more playful street? A friendlier street? That’s what I’m hoping we’ll explore together over the next few months. Twitter, as you’d expect, was an immediate source of ideas and encouragement I’m sure there’s lots more we can learn from people who’ve done this stuff already like Bristol based grassroots Playing Out.

I’m pretty sure we won’t make our street safer with speed bumps. Signs might be handy, but they won’t do much on their own. I bet we can up with more fun, playful ways to make our street the kind of street that every kid would want to grow up on.

It’d be much more fun to do this together. Do you fancy doing something in your street too? Or have you done something already? Bit by bit, road by road, I hope we can send out a message that streets are for people, for play, and not just for cars.

Rob Greenland is co-director of Social Business Brokers. He’s @TheSocBiz on Twitter.



  1. Hi Rob,
    After a Big Lunch street party (on our North Leeds suburban street) had more or less ended last summer, the street was still closed off with barriers and the children seized the opportunity to hare up and down it on their scooters and bikes. It made me so nostalgic for my own playing-out days in the 1970s in our village cul-de-sac but I didn’t know how to try to bring it about now, in the city, for my own kids. After hearing of the Bristol Playing Out movement I read their website and manual thoroughly – absolutely brilliant – and set up a pilot playing out session in September where we closed off the street after school for 2 hours. As well as kids in the street we invited some from the nearby school who live close by.
    The council were supportive in principle but at first a little concerned about whether the session would bother any neighbours – think they were worried about balls through windows and cars perhaps being scraped. A risk assessment gave them the comfort they needed and they let us close the street at nil cost.
    The first session was a great success and we have held 2 (of 4 planned for 2012) since then which have been wonderful too. It is really rewarding to see the kids making up games together and riding on my old 30-year old go-kart*. They absolutely love it and the parents do too – lots of neighbours coming out to chat, including an increasing number without kids.
    I have been quite cautious about it and very careful to consult neighbours and thank them afterwards, also we don’t have balls at the play out sessions (there are plenty of other things to do – chalk, scoot, skip) and we ask neighbours to move their cars out of the street temporarily. That’s not exactly as the Bristol model but our street has very few cars at that time of day and people don’t seem to mind. To date I have not had a single complaint but only praise for what we have achieved and it feels amazing.
    Our street is slowly becoming a community thanks to this and the street party we now hold every year – and it would be wonderful if one day it could be the norm to see children playing out there without the barriers and the supervision as it used to be when I was young. But for now, softly softly, we will keep edging a bit closer and having a great time in the process.
    *go-karts are, I have realised, made for street-play and pretty much useless anywhere else.

  2. Hi Helen

    thanks for your comment – that’s great to hear and I’d love to find out more to see what we could learn from you and look to do in our street. Can you get in touch by leaving a comment or rob AT socialbusinessbrokers co uk?



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