Parks and green spaces are part of the vital community infrastructure where many children first begin to explore their neighbourhoods, meet new friends and enjoy playing together.
We know from our Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces research that a significantly higher proportion of regular park visitors are families with dependent children. Whilst our findings are based on adult respondents, not children, the research shows that greater levels of engagement with parks and green spaces is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction, happiness and a sense of worth.
At Fields in Trust we view children's play as a central element to the work we do, protecting, supporting and championing parks and green spaces. When we redesigned the charity's visual identity last year, we considered how our approach could be represented. Our new logo puts the users of parks and green spaces right at the centre of our identity and shows this through the stylised representation of children's play (a swing) at the heart of our logo, alongside sport (represented by a vintage football) and nature (indicated by a British native tree).
Since 1925, Fields in Trust has been protecting land for play, sport and nature in perpetuity and campaigning for recognition of the community health and wellbeing value of these spaces. One of our earliest marketing materials is a poster showing a child with a football, disappointed at having nowhere to play.
It is vital that all residents, and particularly children, should enjoy opportunities for healthy, active, outdoor recreation within walking distance of home. Children learn physical literacy, the motivation, confidence and competence to be physically active, through play long before they begin to participate in any formal sporting activity and yet there is no mandatory provision of play spaces for children.
We believe that more consideration needs to be given to the play spaces that provide multiple opportunities for children to engage in physical activity at a young age. Our Guidance for Outdoor Sport and Play gives a minimum benchmark guideline of 0.25 hectares of equipped play areas per 1,000 population and suggests all dwellings should have a Local Area for Play (LAP) within at least 100m walking distance. However, research from the Association of Play Industries has shown hundreds of playgrounds are being closed and fewer children are playing outside. The early stages in a child's development are the most important: parks and green spaces allow them opportunities to exercise and be close to nature from an early age.
Of course, play is not dependent on fixed structures. Outdoor play, including exploring a new environment, can take place at any location. Parks and green spaces are one of the first places where young children experience self-directed play, untrammelled by parental fears of traffic and other risks. It is important to ensure our local parks are protected and remain freely accessible. Children's independent mobility, or "roaming range" (the extent of the neighbourhood where children can play outside without adult supervision), has shrunk by more than 90% in 40 years and independent travel is increasingly restricted to older children. Parks are a vital part of our social infrastructure, yet increased traffic, the pressures of school work, parental fears and the decrease of available green space have limited children's outdoor play. Add to this the growing attraction of indoor, screen-based activity and the current generation of young people are losing connections with the natural world and living an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.
Fields in Trust is a member of the Children's Play Policy Forum, along with the four Home Nation play agencies and other organisations promoting the importance of play. The forum operates a collective voice for children's play and, earlier this year, published a position statement, Play Builds Children [PDF], outlining the current crisis in children's play and urging recognition of its importance: "Play is a powerful builder of happy, healthy, capable children. It also benefits families, communities and society".
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