How a Sheffield street shunned cars for the day to embrace old school playtime
Here come some teenagers on roller skates hurtling down the middle of the street. There’s one of their little brothers, trying to keep up on his tiny balance bike. There’s a grandad and granddaughter chalking pictures on the road a few yards away. No-one appears to be scanning their mobile phone.
A scene from 70-80 years ago, maybe? Not so: this was the first pilot of a Play Street for Sheffield last weekend, and organisers hope we’ll soon see more and more streets opened up for kids instead of cars all across the city.
“We need Play Streets because the impact of lockdowns and disruptions to schools and isolation have all hit kids really hard,” said Alasdair Menmuir, engagement coordinator for Beat the Street Sheffield, who recently helped 60,000 Sheffielders, most of them children, spend six weeks running, walking and cycling around their city in their local Beat the Street game.
“We want to see these little pockets of fun, with child centred Play Streets. We’d like to change focus in the city to be less car centric and more accepting of safe places to play.”
Bold words, but the council is listening. Polly Blacker, co-organiser of the Play Streets trial on Holberry Gardens is cautiously pleased, but recognises a single cul-de-sac returned to its local children is very much just the first step.
“Making streets liveable is what I care about,” she said. “We’ve had 18 or 19 kids playing on the street over the last two days, but it’s also about more adults being out talking to each other. Residential streets should be for living, not just for cars. They should be places where people can walk and talk and meet.”
Last weekend’s trial involved local residents around the Broomhall backstreet of mainly terraced houses agreeing to see what would happen if the road was cordoned off with a few nearby wheelie bins, as a handful of residents in tabards kept an eye on things between noon and 4pm on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
Skateboarding, rollerblading, mountain bike wheelies, scooter stunts, chalking, running, quick fire cricket and football games and lots of chatting happened. Kids doing their own thing, without supervision.
Every now and then someone would roll up in a motor vehicle, have a brief chat with a dayglo vested steward, and happily carry on to their home or drive back out again at walking pace.
The idea of Play Streets has been around since last century, but residents from the Playing Out initiative in Bristol more recently devised the idea of an easy (and official) temporary change in function for a local road, where residents place street furniture for a few hours to allow free flowing play for local kids, but where locals can still drive in or out at a supervised 5mph.
Sheffield Hallam University are analysing the results from the local Broomhall trial, and then organisers hope anyone else in Sheffield can get in touch to ask about turning their own road into a temporary Play Street in future.
“I hope there’s going to be real willingness from Sheffield Council to organise a Play Street policy,” said Alasdair Menmuir. “We want more people to approach us to see how they can establish Play Streets in their neighbourhoods.”
(Alasdair and the Beat the Streets team can be contacted on social media or by email at [email protected])
Holberry Gardens is effectively a cul-de-sac for cars anyway, but since it also has a few parking spaces, a typical week day involves a steady trickle of drivers heading hopefully down Havelock Street only to turn round. A stream of delivery drivers completes the ‘you can’t play on the road here’ conclusion.
Polly was pleased with the feedback, with overwhelming support from residents, and kids asking for adjoining Havelock Street to be open for play too.
“It’s about enjoying where you live,” said Alasdair.
More information is at https://playingout.net