No place to play – children lose out as cash-strapped councils struggle to keep playgrounds open

Many urban play spaces could face closure as local authorities make swingeing cuts to cope with the impact of the coronavirus.

Outdoor play areas need more funding says the API.
Outdoor play areas need more funding says the API.

Calls to the Government to increase funding for outdoor play spaces have fallen on deaf ears, according to The Association of Play Industries (API).

With lockdown exacerbating the problem of young children being unable to access exercise outdoors, the API recently wrote to Government ministers urging them to tell the public when play areas could re-open and asking them to provide a specific funding stream for outdoor play and fitness facilities.

While it says it was encouraged when children were allowed back in to play areas on 4 July, the response from Government on funding has been less than supportive.

The Government says it feels funding to local authorities is sufficient for them to determine the best local provision, but this contrasts sharply with what is actually happening in cities such as Nottingham.

Nottingham City Council has been reported as seeing budget pressure of £87.9 million on the back of coronavirus and has received £23.5 million from the Government. 

As a result, the council has announced significant cuts, including 154 job cuts, the closure of a day care centre for disabled people, and the closure of some play areas. 

The council is yet to release a list of which play areas will close, but has said it will be the least used, or those in need of significant repair.

The API’s recent #PlayMustStay campaign showed a 44 per cent decrease in spend on public play areas since 2017 and an accompanying survey confirmed that the public were equally concerned at the effects of this reduction.

In particular the shift from outdoor play to a more sedentary childhood indoors was considered not only a physical impact but also a mental health concern.

The API believes that more physical and mental health issues will emerge if play areas continue to disappear and the cost to society will be significant.

Billions of pounds have been committed by the Government during the COVID crisis to support the economy and yet the amount required to reverse the decline in public play provision and have a positive impact on health and mental well-being is minimal.

API Chair Mark Hardy says: ‘Children have got out of the habit of being active during lockdown, physical activity is vitally important to our society.

‘Active children become active adults and without a fit and healthy society we are less able to cope with future virus’s and of course the cost of obesity to the public purse is well understood. The relatively small cost of providing specific funding pales into insignificance compared to the health benefits.’

 

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