Open up! Let children out in playgrounds again.

The lead body representing the UK play industry has written an open letter to the Prime Minister (attached) urging him to set out when and how public playgrounds will be brought back into use.  Chair of the Association of Play Industries (API), Mark Hardy, says: “Mr Johnson has declared a ‘much more interventionist’ approach to obesity in the fight against Coronavirus and yet they have remained silent on playgrounds which have an essential role in tackling the obesity crisis.”

Up and down the UK parents want to know when their children can play outside in their local playgrounds again.  Other European nations have addressed the issue as they ease their lockdowns. With 1 in 8 UK households without a garden, the API is asking the Government to answer the following as a matter of urgency:

  1. When can children play in playgrounds again?
  2. Will public playgrounds be adequately funded going forward?

Children’s need for play has been airbrushed out of the lockdown roadmap.

 “Children’s outdoor play is essential for their normal development,” says Mark.  “Children have been in lockdown for months, many with limited or no outside space. It is astonishing that the UK Government has made no mention of re-opening public playgrounds, despite their emphasis on opening up other arguably less important outdoor activities.”

Public play provision has suffered years of chronic underfunding, with the number of playground closures going into freefall.  A recent survey of 1100 parents showed that 72% of parents of children with health issues such as obesity said that the lack of outdoor play facilities in their area has played a role in their children’s problems and 90% of parents without a local playground said that having access would make their child play outside more. [ref PMS]

 “We are giving the Government notice now of the catastrophic impact on children’s health unless there is targeted support for our small but vital industry.  There is increasing evidence that Local Authority budgets for public playgrounds will be slashed even further, with devastating, irreversible consequences and significant job losses in the sector,” adds Mark.  “The industry needs to be fit for purpose post-pandemic but so far it has slipped through the gaps of specific government support by not falling under entertainment, sports or retail.”

A recent survey of API members shows that:

  • Members’ sales since the start of lockdown are down over 70% versus 2019
  • Over 95% of members predict a significant fall in revenue for the remainder of the year

“The lockdown has created a renewed appreciation of shared public spaces and their role in public health,” says Mark.  “With evidence that obesity exacerbates Covid-19 symptoms, the need to address the already burgeoning inactivity epidemic becomes even more urgent.”

The Association of Play Industries is calling on the Government to:

  1. Provide a new funding stream specifically for public outdoor play and activity provision*
  2. Provide guidelines for when and how playgrounds will be brought back into use

 

*Our research estimates £100m is needed to offset the decline already seen in recent years.

03rd June 2020

 

Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
Prime Minister

House of Commons
London, SW1A 0AA

 

Dear Prime Minister,

In light of your recent decision to be “much more interventionist” on tackling obesity as part of the fight against coronavirus, I write to urge you not to overlook the essential role that public playgrounds have in tackling the childhood obesity crisis. Public play provision is a key factor in tackling obesity and therefore, in tackling Covid-19.  Solid investment in playgrounds is an easy ‘win’ for Government in this fight, so can I ask:

  1. When can children play in playgrounds again?
  2. Will public playgrounds be adequately funded going forward?

Children’s need for play must not be airbrushed out of the lockdown roadmap. Millions of children will not have played outdoors for months now and, with the current emphasis on outdoor activities for everyone except children, their needs are being neglected.  Parents up and down the UK want to know when their children can use local their playgrounds again and cannot understand why they have not been prioritised as lockdown eases.

 1 in 8 UK households do not have a garden*1 so for many children, playgrounds are their only opportunity to maintain fitness through outdoor play.  A recent survey of 1100 parents showed that 72% of parents of children with health issues such as obesity said that the lack of outdoor play facilities in their area has played a role in their children’s problems and 90% of parents without a local playground said that having access would make their child play outside more.*2

 This follows several years where playground closures have gone into freefall*3 leaving many children, particularly the most disadvantaged, with nowhere to play.  Outdoor play is the precursor to an active lifestyle and a love of fitness is forged through a love of play.

As Chair of The Association of Play Industries, the UK trade body for providers of playground
equipment, we are warning of the catastrophic impact on children’s health unless there is targeted support for our small but vital industry.  There is increasing evidence that Local Authority budgets for public playgrounds will be slashed*4 even further with devastating, irreversible consequences and significant job losses in the sector.  The industry needs to be fit for purpose post-pandemic but so far it has slipped through the gaps of specific government support by not falling under
entertainment, sports or retail.

A recent survey of API members showed that:

 

  • Members’ sales since the start of lockdown are down over 70% versus 2019
  • Over 95% of members predict further reductions in revenue for the remainder of the year

 

We are therefore urging the Government to:

 

  1. Pledge a new Government funding stream specifically for public outdoor play and activity provision (our research estimates £100m is needed to offset the decline seen in recent years).
  2. Provide guidelines for when and how playgrounds will be brought back into use.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  I hope I have your support in this to help secure the health of children now and in the future.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Mark Hardy

Chairman, Association of Play Industries

 

 

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