I have been involved in recent discussions about the provision of safe play facilities for younger children and families and this has become an emerging theme in relation to the local community safety agenda. This matter will be raised again over the coming weeks and will be significant in relation to the Gather and Play Event which is scheduled for the CJFC car park and surrounding area on 15th October 2021. I will be writing a detailed blog about this event nearer the time but for now I thought it was worthwhile to look back to a section from a previous blog where I was promoting the importance of outdoor learning and play for children and the need for our communities to have safe play spaces
John Muir the Scottish conservationist and an advocate of children’s play and exploration in the wildness of the outdoors and who I have quoted in the title of this article knew the value and necessity for younger people to engage fully with and explore their natural environment. Post Covid I believe we need to be championing the cause for greater outdoor learning for children and families and acknowledge the healing power of the outdoors. There are a variety of local opportunities where young people could potentially better engage with their outdoor environment and where they could recapture a sense of wildness and freedom which is uniquely gained from unstructured and unsupervised play in the great outdoors.
If we consider the landscape of our outdoor parks, open spaces, and common grounds in Tamfourhill and Camelon and then ask, are they safe and conducive to allowing our children and young people to explore, take calculated risks and bond with their peers and allow them to affirm with the natural world, and if the answer is, they are not, then they must be a local community safety concern. This perspective was echoed in the community safety survey and has been highlighted in Focus groups and with some of the agencies that I have met with, rubbish, fly tipping, detritus, drug use and Anti-social behaviour have all been sited as reasons why our open spaces and common grounds might not be considered safe. Another historical factor at play here has been the steady erosion of available open spaces for children to play. In Scotland since the industrial revolution children have one ninth of the roaming room they had in earlier generations. Childhood is losing its ancient commons of woodlands, parks, and heaths and with the modern fixation with using technology, devices and computer screens that alienation from the natural outdoor world has been further accentuated. Play for children has become enclosed indoors whilst outdoors signs and messaging bark at children like vicious guard dogs: NO CYCLING, NO SKATEBOARDING, NO BALL GAMES, NO SWIMMING, PRIVATE KEEP OUT!!!! These mantras require to be challenged and this is touched upon through a current Project that is being carried out by my colleague and commissioned community artist Mark Bleakley called “All Games Allowed” and this project will be an important part of the Gather and Play event taking place next month at the CJFC Car park. Needless to say it turns the No ball games allowed approach on its head and creates a contrary safe space where younger children’s street games in public spaces are positively encouraged . I will return again to this activity and wider event nearer the time.
In the months ahead it makes considerable sense to be encouraging greater outdoor experiences, for us all, but especially for our children and young people. I know there will be genuine concerns that leaving children unsupervised in open and wild spaces is far to risky and increases stress levels for parents and family members. It would however be legitimate to ask the question the other way around, can we afford not to allow and encourage this in the post COVID world? There is a balancing act required but for certain the wellbeing and mental recovery of children and young people must be the critical and determining factor. The safety of our open spaces must be a local community safety concern and the provision of safe play facilities for families and children and priority.
“As part of a wider recovery
process, children should be
encouraged and supported to spend
time outdoors, playing with other
children and being physically active,”
say Play First UK. “This is not an
either-or decision. Social connection
and play offer myriad learning
opportunities and are positively
associated with children’s academic
attainment and literacy.”