Provision for spaces in which children can play is under threat, according to research from the Association of Play Industries.
The Nowhere to Play report uncovered a steep decline in playgrounds in England with 448 playgrounds closed or closing. In March, Chris Leslie, MP for Nottingham East, called for research into the state of UK play provision in a debate in Westminster Hall.
Chairman of the Association of Play Industries, Mark Hardy, says: ‘With no dedicated funding for playgrounds from central government or third-sector grants, play provision falls to local authorities whose budgets are squeezed. We are now calling upon the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government to commission a thorough report into the state of play facilities and open spaces throughout the UK.
‘With rising levels of childhood obesity and a deepening crisis in children’s mental health, research is urgently needed into the correlation between these issues and the deprivation experienced in some areas where free play opportunities are lacking.’
To obtain an accurate and up-to-date picture of local authority playground provision in England and how it is changing, the Association of Play Industries put in Freedom of Information requests to 326 local authorities. Each authority was asked to provide information on playgrounds and play facilities for which they were responsible in their local authority areas.
The study revealed that between 2014 and 2016, 214 playgrounds were closed, and a further 234 playgrounds were earmarked for closure by local authorities between 2016 and 2019.
‘It’s now time to drive forward a renaissance in children’s play across the country so that the physical and mental health benefits of outdoor play are opened up to children from all backgrounds,’ says Hardy.
‘We are asking the Government for a clear show of support for play and the benefits it brings to children, families and communities. A relatively modest investment in playground provision now will help reverse the downward trend.’
The findings come as Fields in Trust published their research showing, for the first time, quantifiable evidence of the value of parks and green spaces. The Wellbeing Value associated with the frequent use of local parks and green spaces is worth £34.2bn per year to the entire UK adult population and parks are estimated to save the NHS around £111m.
‘The evidence grows that our parks and green spaces contribute to a preventative health agenda,’ adds Hardy. ‘They reduce health inequalities and increase social cohesion and equality. These spaces have been taken for granted – an essential part of our daily lives – and now they are under threat.
‘Such is the positive impact of our parks and green spaces, that to lose them will further exacerbate the obesity crisis and rising mental health problems, as well as increasing levels of loneliness across many sectors of the population.
‘For many children living in deprived areas – who are more than twice as likely to be obese than those in more affluent areas – playgrounds are often their only chance to play outdoors.
‘We would expect to find a higher incidence of childhood obesity in deprived areas where free play opportunities are limited. Research into the prevalence of obesity and other health issues in certain geographic areas could examine these correlations and ultimately guide policy.
‘Play is fundamental to children’s wellbeing. If play is restricted there are likely to be profound effects upon their physical and mental health, both now and in the future. Well-maintained community play areas foster social cohesion, inspire children to get active and can transform a community.’