Play Wales

December 2013

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Play Wales is the national charity for children's play, promoting quality in all environments where children might play and advocating for playing children across disciplines and services.
Play Wales

Playing in the public realm


Former mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Penalosa famously said, “Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people.”


Children and adults have different conceptions of what constitutes valuable play space. Lester and Russell summarising several studies note that adults’ desire for safety, order and visibility strongly contrasts with children’s desire for disorder and loose materials.  Where adults see a redundant unsightly piece of waste ground in need of redevelopment, children see spaces that offer freedom to have adventures, to explore, to think, to make dens and hang out. These spaces share the qualities of nearness, wildness, secretiveness and possibility yet these would appear to be far from the minds of adult planners.


Benefits of play


Spaces that are good for children are often good for adults too. In its 2007 report, Seen and Heard: Reclaiming the public realm with children and young peopleDemos reinforces the message that ‘the interests of children and the interests of the community at large are not opposed but closely aligned and mutually dependent’.


In their review of the research around children’s play, Lester and Russell highlight that a key finding from recent evidence is that children’s play ‘provides a primary behaviour for developing resilience, thereby making a significant contribution to children’s wellbeing’.  


Resilience can be thought of as the ability to ‘roll with the punches’ and rise above adversity and resist serious challenges, stress and risks. It is a complex and dynamic concept involving not only psychological qualities of the child but also the child’s family, social networks and neighbourhood.


Play and public space


Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation[1] found that a focus on play and public space was a key factor in making new and regenerated communities attractive to families. The Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment (CABE)[2] drew similar conclusions from its research into the views of residents of new housing.


The value of outdoor space for children’s play as part of planning and regeneration policy has been recognised in other countries.  When I attended a ‘European Network of Child Friendly Cities conference in Rotterdam in 2008, I heard how urban design in that city is underpinned by a set of planning guidelines which are based on the principle that all public space is a potential play area and that all new and renovated developments should allow a clearly defined amount of safe, easily accessible, attractive space for children to play.  The Rotterdam norms were developed in order to discourage the migration of young city couples that were leaving the city when starting families.  There was a recognition that the city needed to be more child friendly to be viable and vibrant.


Wales - a play friendly place?


Here in Wales, Section 11 of the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010 places a duty on local authorities to assess and secure sufficient play opportunities for children in their area. The Play Sufficiency Duty comes as part of the Welsh Governments anti-poverty agenda which recognises that children can have a poverty of experience, opportunity and aspiration, and that this kind of poverty can affect children from all social, cultural and economic backgrounds across Wales. The Order, which requires all Local Authorities to assess the sufficiency of play opportunities for children within its area, commenced on 1 November 2012.


Each Local Authority conducted Play Sufficiency Assessments and completed an Action Plan in line with Statutory Guidance. The Guidance is broad and recognises that the provision of quality play opportunities can also significantly contribute to agenda for the whole community including:


  • Community safety – by providing safe environments for children and all other citizens.
  • Sustainable development – by providing environments that attract families to work and live in areas that meet the needs of the whole family over a period of time.


Developing space for Play


Design Commission for Wales emphasises the need for local authorities to clearly communicate what they expect from developers of new housing developments. Through the Play Sufficiency Assessment process, planning and design officers in a number of local authorities have articulated their commitment to ensure that the integration of designated open spaces, such as those for playing, be considered at the outset of the design process. We are starting to see how planning policy can be improved to allow better access to local play opportunities.


Playing in the Community


Communities can benefit through better social contacts including diverse groups and different generations. This has the potential to increase participation and counter negative stereotypes.  As Valentine in Public Space and the Culture of Childhood stresses, we must move away from strategies that view ‘children as a problem that either need to be corralled for their own safety, or contained for other people’s safety’.


Barriers to Play


As part of the Play Sufficiency Assessments, children and young people living in Wales have told us that they encounter many barriers to playing out and hanging out with friends (most notably parked cars and traffic intensity and speed, fear of strangers and unwelcoming attitudes and environments).   We need to change the environment throughout our communities to create a play friendly Wales; and this requires supporting the change of attitudes and mindsets.  Many of us have fond memories of growing up in a time when it was accepted that children, once they were old enough and confident enough to negotiate the outside world independently or with friends and siblings, played outside and ranged within their neighbourhood freely.  Strong local neighbourhoods can mitigate parental fears about children playing out by providing a sense of community and security. When you know who your neighbours are it becomes much easier to let your own children to play out.


Children and young people across Wales are asking for more time, space and permission to play in communities that care for them….that’s not too much to ask, surely?



Play Wales is the national charity for children's play – promoting quality in all environments where children might play and advocating for playing children across disciplines and services. It works to close the gap between children and young people’s needs and wishes and the provision that is made for them to play.  It works to raise awareness of children and young people's need and right to play and to promote good practice at every level of decision-making and in every place where children might play. 



[1] Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2006) A Good Place for Children? Attracting and retaining families in inner urban mixed income communities. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

[2] CABE (2005) What it's like to live there, London: Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment.



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