Focus on play - Re-opening parks, play areas and open spaces for children’s play

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Focus on play

May 2020

Re-opening parks, play areas and open spaces for children’s play This briefing provides information and guidance for parks and open space officers and playground managers. It sets out some of the factors for consideration when decisions are being made regarding which spaces will be available and promoted for play and ensuring sufficiency of play opportunities. We recognise that under the current circumstances, little remains constant and we will update this briefing as and when new information becomes available. In the response to coronavirus, there has been a necessary focus on work, shopping and exercise as essential activities. For children, there has also been an emphasis on continuing their education, as far as possible. However, playing should also be seen as essential activity. It is fundamental to children’s well-being, resilience1, and development and it is mostly how they exercise.

Easing of lockdown Prior to the closure of schools and childcare to the majority of children in Wales, many local authorities and other playground managers took the decision to close play areas and limit or close access to parks and recreation spaces. In its document, Unlocking our society and economy: continuing the conversation2, published on 15 May 2020, Welsh Government outlines a traffic light system for guiding Wales out of lockdown. This makes it very clear that, even at the ‘green’ level of lockdown easement, the legal requirement

About Play Wales Play Wales is the national charity for children’s play. We work to raise awareness of children and teenagers’ need and right to play and to promote good practice at every level of decision making and in every place where children might play. We worked closely with Welsh Government on its groundbreaking ‘Play Sufficiency’ legislation. 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.

to ensure physical distancing measures will remain. It also acknowledges that the change in restrictions may not be in one direction only and that we may need to return to higher levels of restrictions should the infection rate rise. As the restrictions on services are gradually lifted and schools, childcare and other provision for families re-open, consideration will need to be given to the re-opening of spaces where children can play in their community. It appears likely that this decision will remain the discretion of local authorities or those responsible for play and recreational spaces.

Types of play and recreational space Whilst equipped play areas may immediately spring to mind, it is important to remember that there may be a range of other outside spaces where children can play in their community and where it may be easier for parents and their children to comply with physical distancing requirements. These spaces will have been assessed as part of the 2019 Play Sufficiency Assessment and will include:

Grassland or scrubland

Woodlands and amenity green space

Beaches, river and lake sides

Public parks and gardens (in addition to dedicated play areas within the parks)

Residential streets

School grounds

Village greens, town squares, plazas and other open urban public spaces

Incidental pockets of land, for example alongside roads and paths.

Making space available for playing The following questions are intended to help when assessing what is reasonably practicable when making recovery plans to re-open spaces for playing.

National guidance •

What level of lockdown restrictions are currently in place from Welsh Government (traffic light system)?

What physical distancing regulations are in place?

What is the current evidence regarding transmission of the virus amongst children and from children to adults?

Community •

Can you promote the use of community spaces for playing – including residential streets, school grounds, active travel routes, beaches, woodland or other green space?

What is the likely usage or footfall of the space in question? This will vary from site to site, for example it may be more problematic to re-open destination parks than small local spaces.

Will the re-opening of spaces for playing make life easier or more complicated for families?

If play spaces are opened in a phased way how will this message be shared with children and families?

Equipped play areas •

Is it possible to implement physical distancing measures?

What signage would help share messages around physical distancing?

Based on scientific evidence of transmission on hard services, is a cleansing regime required for equipment?

Would an effective cleansing regime be cost effective and reasonably practicable?

Children •

Are the proposals in the best interests of children?

Can physical distancing measures be observed without causing undue stress, isolation or anxiety in children?

Is there an offer for children of all ages including teenagers?

Conclusion It is probably not possible, practicable or desirable that all equipped play areas will be re-opened simultaneously. It is important to remember that there are a wide range of spaces where children can be encouraged to play in the community and where it is safe to do so within current regulations. Play Wales advocates for an approach that puts children’s well-being first in decisions about where children can play. A recognition of the broad range of spaces that are categorised as play spaces in Wales – A Play Friendly Country3, could help children begin to play out in their community again, with all the associated benefits, even before it is possible to re-open equipped play provision.

References Play Wales (2015) Building resilience - the importance of playing. Cardiff: Play Wales. 1

Welsh Government (2020) Unlocking our society and economy: continuing the conversation. Welsh Government (crown copyright).


Welsh Government (2015) Wales - a Play Friendly Country. Welsh Government (crown copyright).

3 Registered charity, no. 1068926