Opening up more roads for safe games and socialising has been one good thing to come out of the pandemic

Play is a serious business. It is essential for children’s learning, mental wellbeing and life skills such as teamwork. But outside of organised sport and early years education, where play is central, policymakers rarely address what is mainly seen as a private matter. This year, the closure of nurseries, schools and playgrounds during the pandemic has reminded us all that withdrawing opportunities for play can be a risk to children’s social and emotional as well as physical health. Manchester, Tameside and Westminster are among English councils to have responded by taking advantage of rules introduced last year that make it easier to turn streets into play areas, closing them off to cars for set periods.

Covid-19 has increased the demand for outdoor exercise and green space, particularly among urban dwellers who don’t have gardens. This need is even more pronounced during summer holidays that for many children, this year, are simply a continuation of what went before. Pressure on parks and other public spaces such as beaches has been intense. The poorest families are the least likely to have access to space where children can play. This longstanding issue reached its apogee last year in the scandal of segregated playgrounds in housing developments, open to families who own properties but not those in social housing.

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