Kids need to play outside. According to a 2016 study, three quarters of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates. UN guidelines mandate that prisoners must be allowed at least one hour outside – but our children are getting even less than that.
This is clearly an issue, especially in light of the health benefits that come with outdoor play. These include using a larger vocabulary outdoors, promoting creativity and ultimately, helping them get physical exercise.
However, do we do enough in the UK to support playtime? With children’s activity levels and attention spans, are our play facilities suitable? With more than 690,000+ children born each year in the UK, are we even building them fast enough?
Playground design company Infinite Playgrounds submitted Freedom of Information requests to local UK authorities in order to get an overview of the state of UK playgrounds. Here, we’ve reported on some of the key areas in each region to give you an idea of how many play areas we have, how fast we’re building them and future plans…
Please note: this information is collected from Freedom of Information requests from a number of council sources and is not a guaranteed or authoritative measure of play areas.
Play around the country:
Kent currently has eight children’s play areas in country parks, which are actively maintained by the Kent County Council.
Starting with two play areas in 2005, there have been six new play areas built. However, there are no current plans for new play facilities – a 300 per cent increase.
In 2016, West Berkshire has 44 play areas – all are actively maintained by weekly inspections and ROSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) checks quarterly. In 2006, the area had 35 play areas – meaning there have been nine built in the last 10 years, or a growth of 25 per cent.
Manchester has 111 actively maintained play areas across their sites. Of these, they’ve experienced a huge growth. Between 1986 and 1996, there were just five in the region. This increased to 79 between 1996 and 2006 and has now increased to 111. That’s over 106 play areas built in just 20 years, or a 2120 per cent rise!
Chester & Cheshire West
Another area committed to play, Cheshire West and Chester have 122 play areas which are regularly inspected by a qualified ROSPA play officer. However, the authority holds no records on previous numbers. Future plans see the council implementing a play strategy to review all areas and identify gaps in provision.
East of England:
The North Lincolnshire council currently has 65 play areas which are all actively maintained. There were 46 between 1996 and 2006, meaning they have built 19 – with a growth rate of 41 per cent. There are plans to build another nine playgrounds and five awaiting the planning process.
One of the UK’s smallest counties, Bedford has 97 public play parks and areas. All of them are actively maintained. In 2006 there were 85 – meaning 12 have been built in 10 years for an increase of 14 per cent. No future plans exist to build new facilities.
Birmingham City Council manages and maintains 231 play areas – which are regularly inspected. However, no data is held on prior numbers. Despite this, there are plans for a number of new play areas – with five already finalised.
Currently, there are 122 playgrounds in the Telford area. However, this number is expected to be reduced by 10 due to maintenance funding. Each area is given a weekly inspection by a play inspector. In 2006 there were 116 areas – which means there were six new areas in the last 10 years, a growth of five per cent. However, if the council reduces the number of play areas to 112 there’ll be a three per cent reduction.
82 playgrounds are currently actively maintained by South Gloucestershire Council. In 2008 this figure stood at 66 – meaning there have been 16 new areas built. That’s a growth of 24 per cent.
Yorkshire and the Humber:
Recent City of Culture, Hull has 91 maintained playgrounds. In 2009, there were 74 – which means in seven years there have been 17 new playgrounds built for a growth of 22 per cent. Plans for new facilities are in the pipeline.
In the Wakefield district, there are 140 equipped play areas – of which 115 are maintained and regularly inspected by the local authority. The remainder are assumed to be maintained by their managing organisation. In 2006, there were 132 play areas, meaning eight have been built in 10 years – or a growth of six per cent.
The small county of Rutland has 16 playgrounds maintained by the council. In 2008 there were just five, meaning the county has increased the amount of play areas by 12 in eight years, or a growth of 240 per cent. No current plans exist for future play areas.
In Hartlepool, there are 27 play sites. In 2006, there were 16 – which gives us a growth of 11 new play areas in 10 years. That’s a 68 per cent increase! The area also has plans for a further three play areas due to housing and seafront developments.
In the south Tyneside area there are 40 play areas, which have grown by 13 since 2007, where there were 28 areas. That means there was a 46 per cent growth.
Are we supporting play?
In a sign of funding problems and a lack of play-focus, the majority of councils have indicated that they have few plans to build any new play areas. Most have instead stated an intent to maintain or update the existing playgrounds. It seems clear that budget cuts are limiting the growth of play facilities.
Looking at the figures above, we can estimate that the number of play areas managed by UK councils have grown at an average percentage rate of 25 per cent between 8-10 years. However, with over 600,000 babies born each year, and many councils indicating they have no plans for future play areas, are the current numbers enough?