Leeds street play session puts brakes on cars

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A little girl kneels on the road chalking pictures on the tarmac, while other youngsters race up the street, riding go-karts, bikes and scooters, and several more skip with a long skipping rope.

But this isn’t some idyllic image from the 1970s – this good, old-fashioned “playing out” took place in Leeds just days ago.

Youngsters showcase their skipping skills during a street play session.

Youngsters showcase their skipping skills during a street play session.

Now more of the city’s children are being encouraged to play out on their streets, thanks to a pot of funding from Play England.

Play pioneer Helen Forman has been banishing traffic from the Roundhay road where she lives – four times a year since 2011 – so that local youngsters can enjoy a taste of the freedom their parents enjoyed when they were little.

The mum-of-two said: “They absolutely love it. And it’s been really, really rewarding, I highly recommend it.”

Up to 40 children aged one to 11 adore the two-hour after-school sessions. Older ones often help their younger playmates and they all enjoy traditional activities that are completely different to those involved in a trip to the park with parents or carers.

Helen said the benefits were wide-reaching. “Over the four years it has really brought the community together so we now do a few other events like carol singing and coffee mornings. People know each other that didn’t know each other before.”

It was seeing the youngest residents’ response to a road closure for The Big Lunch that inspired Helen. She said: “Everyone had gone back in and because the road was blocked off and empty of cars the kids loved it. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could do this more often.”

She read about the Playing Out movement in Bristol, where more than 100 streets run street play sessions and the council has created Temporary Play Street Orders. With help from Leeds City Council Helen applied to temporarily close her road.

Using funding from Play England, Leeds Play Network is offering advice and support to parents across the city to help them start street play sessions. Ring Leeds Play Network on 0113 201 6790 or go to playingout.net for details.

Stewart Jefferson.

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