27 June, 2024

Pro-play: Insights from HACT's Webinar with Clarion Futures and Playing Out on community play initiatives

Last month, HACT had the privilege of hosting Clarion Futures and Playing Out for their webinar entitled “Pro-play: what’s it all about and why is play important?”.  The session explored the crucial role housing associations can play in promoting and facilitating play within communities and highlighting the short- and long-term benefits of access to outdoor play spaces for children and their family units.  Here’s a detailed recap of the key points discussed during the hour-long event. 

The Importance of Play in Community Development 

The event began with Sarah Mitton, Age Friendly Community Manager for Clarion Futures, introducing Clarion’s mission to transform lives through a wellbeing-focused approach to resident interaction.  

She emphasised that play is not merely an activity, but a critical component of children’s development, community engagement, and overall wellbeing. Clarion’s holistic approach aims to empower residents with projects, programmes, and tools that enhance their quality of life, with initiatives like Playing Out being pivotal to this mission. 

The Decline of Everyday Play 

Alice Ferguson, Co-Founder of Playing Out, gave a run-down of the current state of children’s play in the UK.  

She highlighted the dramatic decline in outdoor play over the past few decades in numbers: 

This decline can be contributed to societal changes that have created a hostile environment for outdoor play, with streets and spaces outside homes prioritised for car parking, as well as designated play areas in parks and estates are often unintuitive, insufficient, and inaccessible without adult supervision.  

Alice referenced an example from a London Housing Association that segregated play areas for children from different socio-economic backgrounds, a practice now banned. 

The Pro-Play Vision 

Ceri Gibbins, Communities Officer at Clarion, shared their ambition to become a pro-play housing provider.  

She highlighted the common misconception in social housing that play is synonymous with anti-social behaviour. This lack of understanding, coupled with inadequate safe play spaces, disproportionately affects children in social housing. Clarion’s first play strategy, launched in 2021, is being updated to ensure a pro-play ethos is embedded across their operations. 

Clarion’s initiatives include removing unnecessary ‘no ball games’ signs and participating in the national Play Streets campaign, which temporarily closes streets to traffic, allowing children to play freely. These efforts are part of a broader strategy to create child-friendly environments directly outside homes, known as “doorstep play”. 

“It is not screens that are stopping children from playing out, as soon as they are given the space and opportunity to play outside, they seize it. We need to work towards this being normal, every-day and acceptable.”

Alice Ferguson

Co-founder, Playing Out

The Role of Housing Providers 

Alice Ferguson emphasised the unique position of housing providers in facilitating play. Whilst parents desire safer, more welcoming environments for their children, they need support and tools to achieve this. Housing providers can make simple yet effective changes to community infrastructure to create child-friendly spaces, such as organising play streets.  

Alice dispelled the myth that screens are the primary reason children are not playing outside. Given the opportunity and space, children gravitate towards outdoor play. Whilst play streets are a temporary solution, they demonstrate what children need and help establish the conditions for normalising everyday outdoor play. For adults, these initiatives foster community spirit and bridge cultural gaps. 

Building a Pro-Play Network 

Ceri Gibbins introduced the Pro-Play Network, launched by Clarion in 2023. This collaborative initiative aims to unite housing partners to share knowledge, develop play projects, and campaign for policy changes. The network’s ultimate goal is to create environments where children can thrive, leading to healthier, happier communities and improved infrastructure for all residents. 

Q&A Session Highlights 

Questions remain about justifying pro-play initiatives to housing associations facing funding constraints due to disrepair issues. Alice Ferguson responded to this, saying that fostering a pro-play culture doesn’t necessarily require substantial funding, and can ultimately save money by reducing complaints and enhancing community satisfaction.

Healthy, happy children contribute to a healthy society, which underscores the long-term benefits of the Pro-play initiative. 

The majority of attendees left the webinar stating their intentions to incorporate play into their work and communities, recognising the profound impact demonstrated today on social value and community wellbeing. 

Let's talk!

If you’d like to share your community investment approaches and journeys, get in touch with our Head of Communities and Projects Rebecca Rieley. We’re keen to learn more about how organisations approach community investment in the current context.

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