Stay & Play – At Monnow Primary School
Play Better, Play Bettws
Bettws Play Audit – conversations with children, parents and professionals in Bettws, summer 2021
Playing is central to children’s physical, mental, social and emotional health and well-being. It helps children develop the attitudes, aptitudes and conceptual frameworks for learning and development. For children themselves, playing is one of the most important aspects of their lives and they value time, freedom and quality places to play.
Play Bettws is a programme of work supported by the Bettws Early Learning Community Green & Safe Places to Play Workstream Group to focus on the relationships between play, safety and open space. Through previous community consultations a number of ideas have been suggested already including a play trail, walking trails, “green gym”, food growing spaces, picnic sites, so in August and early September 2021 Play Wales was engaged to undertake an audit of play in the Bettws area pulling together what we know more widely about the benefits of play with local children’s and adults’ views about their area.
Bettws Play Audit
There is a well-established body of evidence that demonstrates both the immediate and long-term benefits of play, particularly self-organised play, in enhancing children’s well-being – their physical health and their mental health and resilience. Children’s play is reliant on three aspects – space, timeand permission to play – and opportunities to play exist more notably where all are positively presented.
The Play Audit consisted of desk-based community profiling, workshops with children in school and at the SHEP summer activity programme, walkabouts around Bettws, and some limited engagement with parents of younger children attending the Flying Start Centres. Community engagement was understandably limited due to the ongoing covid-19-related restrictions. Engagement with children focused mainly on school year five (ages nine to ten) and above as they are more likely to be out in the environment playing and most children at this age can understand and take an active part in research activities. As well as engagement with parents, informal discussions were held with practitioners.
In undertaking the Play Audit, Play Wales used a qualitative methodology seeking to understand the variety and richness of experience and the detail that participants can offer. We wanted to establish how physical and social factors impact on children’s day-to-day play experiences including:
Time – how often and how much time children spend playing
Space – within children’s locality, its accessibility for children, and the ‘play value’ of that space
Attitudes – of children, parents, other residents and people whose work impacts on children
Play Audit findings
Open spaces for play
Bettws is valued for its open spaces and proximity to natural/ countryside areas. Litter, dog mess and under-maintained play equipment were concerns for both adults (strongly) and children (less so). Few children play on the field next to the park near the social club, despite a sign inviting more play in the space – they refer to it as boring.
Playing close to home and in the local area
Most older children (eight +) report having reasonable freedom of movement and they play in a mix of formal and informal spaces – fixed play areas, streets and other public places. They particularly mentioned feeling safe in and around the shopping centre and valued the steps, walls and walkways as places to meet friends and play.
Younger children referenced playing with parents at home and in gardens. Playgrounds and natural areas were identified as favourite places to play by this age group.
People’s attitudes and associated issues influencing play.
Whilst children did report sometimes not being allowed out to play by parents, generally they talked about their parents encouraging them to play out. Parents report problems with older children and teenagers, and significant issues and fears associated with the selling and use of drugs, particularly in open spaces. Older community members were generally supportive of children playing out.
The speed of traffic and wheeled vehicles on public walkways were identified as barriers to play by some children and a few parents.
What we’re learning
The provision and design of community spaces for playing could be improved but if parents still fear letting their children out to play, then children will not be using those spaces.
Play Wales concluded that the best way forward is to develop a play strategy for Bettws working with local service providers and other stakeholders, including local residents, to evaluate potential interventions to remove barriers and enhance opportunities for play, for example:
- Using school grounds for play when the school day ends
- Developing a peripatetic playwork project to actively engage with children in community spaces. Similarly, developing an outreach youthwork project for older children and young people
- Developing outdoor parent and toddler activities, building on forest schools, but providing access to and activities in more public spaces
- Spatial and design interventions and enhancements on footpaths to create more playable and safe routes, and developing street play initiatives in the area
- Developing playable enhancements and equipment and play offers on a range of the open spaces
- Delivery of play training to community members and teenagers, and supporting parents to become local play ambassadors