Helen Ball, Town Clerk to Shrewsbury Town Council and SLCC Director, represented SLCC at the Playground Stakeholder Roundtable held 10 February 2021, which was chaired by Louise Barr, the Deputy Director COVID Response – (COVID secure places, regulations, compliance and enforcement) at Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and members of the Safer Public Spaces Team. Also invited were representatives from National Association of Local Councils (NALC), Parks Action Group, Association of Play Industries, Association of Registered Play Industries, Play England, Local Government Association (LGA), Children’s Play Policy Forum, Play Safety Forum and the Green Flag Award Scheme.
The meeting was convened to gauge current experiences of lockdown currently and experiences from last summer after lockdown was lifted and to prepare for spring/summer in readiness for publication of the Lockdown Exit Strategy.
Representatives were invited to give their views on play and current arrangements/restrictions. Issues included;
- It was important to have play areas open for children’s mental and physical wellbeing
- Difficulties understanding the logic of allowing play areas to be open but insisting on BMX/Skateboard facilities/MUGAs/Green Gyms to remain closed
- Increases in vandalism including fencing, gates and locks being damaged by people attempting to access closed facilities, drug usage, damaged signage, damaged play facilities
- Signage has been ripped down
- Public failing to following the 2m social distancing rules
- Some councils reporting 65% increase in park usage (both in terms of number and dwell time) resulting in considerable wear and tear
- Parks and Play Areas becoming destination locations
Parks are being used for socialisation – people meeting up for exercise, parents meeting up at play areas so that their children could meet with their school friends
- Some Council closing parks and have halted carrying out play inspections and maintenance
- Huge cost pressures on councils (at all tiers of local government) – parish council sector reporting that Government funding directed to principal councils is not being passported to parish councils)
- Insurance companies giving mixed messages about risk
- Public Intolerance/Public pressure to close play facilities when schools are closed
The key messages included:
- Increased footfall
- Pressure on associated facilities
- Many parks were becoming destination parks
- No funding passported to parish councils
- People Pressure
- Need for on-site support/Marshalling resource
- Play is exercise and needs to be articulated explicitly.
MHCLG will arrange a follow-up meeting to focus on forward planning in the spring and will be using feedback from the meeting to review activity to ensure that outdoor playgrounds are COVID secure.