Monday, 7 June 2010

Russell Brand and the lost slipper

In Russell Brand’s 2007 biography My Booky Wook, the comedian describes playing out as child in an ‘overgrown and abandoned army barracks’ where the burnt out car, brambles and moss, underground tunnels and concrete bunkers ‘felt like a magical kingdom’.

Now, whatever way you take your comedy, there can be little doubt that having the opportunity to play out is no joke. Like Brand and others of his generation (and generations before) playing outside the home, in all weathers with other local children was a daily, ever-changing, fun activity. As waves of recent statistics indicate, we are in danger of raising a generation whose play experiences are increasingly isolated and limited to the home.

In a sense, London Play’s Street Play project is less of an innovation and more a revival, returning children and their families back to a time when their street was not simply a strip of tarmac for cars to whizz down. Bunting and flags, rugs and furniture, street games, barbecues, nutty spontaneous games, chalk drawing and the rest can turn tarmac into a colourful, welcoming space.

The benefits of play are often taken for granted but it's worth restating. What other activity can counter childhood obesity, encourage risk management, nurture imagination, and develop social and cooperative skills all in one go?

But Street Play has its own distinct benefits not just for the individual but for the wider community. Having organised an event on my own street in Walthamstow (see previous blog entry), I have seen a shift in neighbourly manners with people now saying “Good morning” to each other and a surge in chatting over the garden fence. It's not paradise (I found a slipper in my window box the other day) but its heading in the right direction.

The road back to children being able to play safely on their doorstep may be a long one. Playing out was a freedom denied to the last generation, and it may take a further generation to regain. However, London Play’s Street Play project is one step towards children regaining that freedom to play out. Not a brand new idea but certainly one worth reviving.

Paul Hocker

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