New UK government 'must address play crisis’

According to Fields in Trust’s latest Green Space Index research, 2.3 million children in Britain under the age of nine (31%), live more than a ten-minute walk from the nearest playground.

These findings are part of the 2024 Green Space Index, a unique annual barometer of publicly accessible park and green space provision across Great Britain.

The research highlights a growing concern about the accessibility of playgrounds for Britain’s children, with far-reaching implications for health, wellbeing, and physical activity levels.

It is calling on the new Government to appoint a Minister for Children and Young People and to ensure that children’s right to play is secured by access to spaces.

It’s staggering that one in three children live more than a ten-minute walk from their local playground. This fact alone shows that the needs of children simply aren’t a priority for too many decision makers.

Decades of underinvestment and poor planning choices are some of the driving factors behind the current situation with nearly 800 playgrounds facing closure since 2013.

Despite making up around 20% of the population, children and young people’s voices are missing from the discussion of the nation’s future, leaving their needs overlooked and ideas unheard.

FiT also found varying levels of provision across the nation, with 4 out of 10 councils having more than a third of their children living further than a ten-minute walk from a playground which alarmingly rises to two-thirds of children in some areas.

In one instance, 65% of children live more than a ten-minute walk from their nearest playground with councillors warning that they simply cannot afford to maintain all its sites, with some play areas having to be “removed or repurposed” to save money.

The overall picture is bleak. Local authority funding for playgrounds has significantly declined, with the annual park budget in England falling by 14% between 2009 and 2020. The closure of hundreds of playgrounds has left many children without safe and accessible places to play.

It found that, on average, a single playground serves 376 children aged up to 9. In more deprived areas, there is a higher density of children relying on a space to meet their needs leading to overcrowding and unfair access to recreational spaces.

A growing body of research links playgrounds and outdoor play to physical health and wellbeing.

Parks do an amazing buffering job against chronic stress, children’s ADHD, and other mental health conditions. Our environment, and particularly access to green space, has a major effect on us. This is even more prevalent for a child when it comes to their brain development, dictating their health later in life.

The lack of outdoor play and playground facilities also reduces the opportunities for children and young people to be active. We believe ensuring safe, easy access to high-quality play provision should be a public health priority. More than half (53%) of children do not meet the recommended daily activity target of 60 minutes according to the latest Sport England survey of 100,000 children and young people.

Approximately 35% of 10-and 11-year-olds in England are overweight or obese, putting them at higher risk for serious health implications later in life.

FiT is calling on the next Government to ensure the recent Select Committee Inquiry into Children and the Built Environment report is published and its recommendations actioned, as the ball cannot be dropped on this crucial issue again. Generations of children are being deprived of opportunities to play and without action to reverse the decline many more will be impacted.

Helen Griffiths, Chief Executive of Fields in Trust, said: “The upcoming General Election is an opportunity for the new government to take the action needed to reverse years of damage to families and communities.

“We have seen an overwhelming interest in the access to parks, green spaces, and playgrounds agenda.

“We must take this opportunity for every party to put children’s access to play at the top of their election pledges. But we need to go beyond vague promises, which is why we have created our ‘A Better Future For Parks and Green Spaces’ Manifesto with a set of asks that will deliver a future that parks, people, and nature deserve.

“It’s time, now more than ever, to take parks and play seriously.”

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