In recent years, our members – the UK’s leading play companies – have been reporting a decline in playground orders from cash-strapped local authorities.  At the same time, a Freedom of Information investigation by Children and Young People Now magazine revealed that nearly a third (31%) of local authorities closed playgrounds between 2010 and 2013.  It also discovered that spending on play fell by 38.8% during the same period, from £67.9m in 2010/11 to £41.5m in 2013/14[1]

We wanted to hear first-hand the views of families using these much-needed local play facilities.  That’s why we decided to put public play provision under scrutiny.  Launching a campaign called #nowhere2play, we asked parents and families to share their views and concerns about where their children will play in future, and the role of government in protecting children’s right to play.  They didn’t hold back.

It was clear that they were as worried about the state of local play facilities as we are.   Over half (56%) of families responding said they were unhappy about the about the lack of high quality play facilities in their local area.  Nearly a quarter (23.4%) said their nearest playground is in a poor state and almost as many (22.9%) said their children rarely or never play there.  More than half (52.4%) said they are seeing no improvement in local play facilities and 15.1% say provision is getting worse.  Almost four in ten (38.1%) were worried that playgrounds in their local community may close down altogether.

As a result, they - like us - want the government to take action.  Eight in ten families said there should be funding for more high quality public play facilities (82.4%) and investment in parks and green spaces for public recreation (81.1%).  Nearly four in ten (39.8%) said that disadvantaged communities should be the focus of funding for playground improvements.

98.5% of the families we surveyed said they think it’s important that their children are physically active, but this research shows that many simply have nowhere safe to play.  We were particularly concerned that so many families – one in seven (14.5%) - said their nearest playground is derelict, unusable or unsafe.  The strength of feeling amongst parents that government should be making children’s play a priority was clear and their concerns are a real wake-up call. 

We are in the middle of an obesity crisis which threatens to shorten the life expectancy of our children and overwhelm the NHS.  But the government is yet to recognise the vital importance of play in creating positive early experiences of physical activity for children.  Being physically active is a habit and starting that habit in children’s earliest years is likely to entrench healthy, active behaviours in adulthood.   

At a time when physical inactivity poses as big a threat to public health as smoking, it’s hugely important that children have time, space and opportunity to play and be active.  Many families have no access to a garden, park or safe outdoor space to play which is why public play facilities are so vitally important, particularly in disadvantaged communities.  If we are serious about tackling the root causes of these growing health crises, then every community should have access to well-designed, high-quality, free-to-access public play facilities.  The relatively low capital cost required delivers wide-ranging value from physical and developmental benefits for children to addressing wider social problems like social exclusion, anti-social behaviour and community cohesion. 

It’s a worrying trend that local authority funding cuts are denying children up and down the country the opportunity – and their fundamental human right – to play.  That right to play is enshrined in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  England is the only UK nation without a national play strategy and lacks a political champion for play. 

That state of affairs is wrong.  We believe the API’s #nowhere2play campaign provides a rallying cry to policy makers and we are not alone in our belief in the power of play to support child development, health and wellbeing.  The British Heart Foundation National Centre’s Best Start in Life manifesto, launched at the start of this year, urged policymakers not to ignore pre school-aged children when developing policy on physical activity.  The All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood, co-chaired by play campaigner Baroness Floella Benjamin, has also published two reports recommending a pivotal role for play in helping address the national child obesity crisis.

As an active member of that cross-party group, the Children’s Play Policy Forum and Federation of Sports and Play Associations, we believe it is time for the government to move play up the political agenda and to appoint a policy lead on play to develop and adopt a national play strategy.  Don’t you?   

We want the government to sit up and take notice of the poor state of many play facilities for children.  So if your local playground is disused, abandoned or neglected, take a picture for our online campaign gallery and share it on social media, using the campaign hashtag #nowhere2play. 

For further information about the API, contact: Deborah Holt, tel: 024 7648 47218, email

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