The Practical Democracy Podcast. A podcast about practical change, with guests from public bodies and civil society.

Episode 21: Play Streets: confident kids, connected communities

Featuring: Kate Staniforth

In 2009, frustrated that children couldn’t play outside like so many of us did growing up, friends Amy and Alice got together with neighbours to close their street to traffic and open it up for play. The results were amazing, for children and all ages, and Playing Out was born. Bristol City Council created a unique piece of legislation, called a Temporary Play Street Order, that officially allows street communities to play out every week - and other councils got interested too.

Play Streets have resulted in happier kids, better connections with neighbours and a real sense of community cohesion. And by working with councils and getting policy made, the movement is scalable across the country - and the world!

This month on the Practical Democracy Podcast we talk to Kate Staniforth, Play Street Activator for Playing Out, about the history of the movement and the positive changes it's created in her neighbourhood.

Episode 21 transcript

Kate Staniforth: There are green spaces across the city and across the country, but children may not be able to get those spaces safely without getting in a car or without an adult taking them. Doing something just on the doorstep is so much easier and has all those extra added benefits as well.

Sabine Groven: Hello, and welcome to The Practical Democracy podcast by Delib. My name is Sabine Groven and I’ll be speaking with some great movers and shakers who are working to make practical change today. Did you play outside your house as child? Today children in the UK are much less likely to be able to play outside than their parents. It’s just not safe. This is something today’s guest is on a mission to change.

KS: I’m Kate, Kate Staniforth, and I am the Bristol Play Streets Activator for Playing Out.

SG: Playing Out developed the idea of “play streets”, giving children a safe space to temporarily play on their doorstep. Firstly, Kate will tell you how it all started.

KS: So Playing Out is an organisation that started back in 2009 and it was started by two mums who lived opposite each other in Bristol. They just found that their children didn’t have the same freedom that they had growing up. They wanted to create a safe space outside their house to see if the children could play out safely right on their doorstep. So they applied to the council to shut their road for just a few hours after school. The results were just amazing and the children just played out really happily for a few hours. From that one session, the idea just grew and it spread across Bristol. Then, a year or so later they set up an organisation, which meant that people across Bristol could apply to the council to regularly shut their road for play. Now, the organisation supports residents across the UK that want to shut their road for playing out sessions.

SG: So how does it work then? How can you do playing out?

KS: In Bristol, Bristol City Council worked with Playing Out to create a separate bit of legislation, which was unique, and it’s called a Temporary Play Street Order. So in Bristol, you’re allowed to apply to the council to shut your road for up to three hours every week. That seems like a lot, but most streets that choose to do it once a month or once every few months. It’s entirely up to the street to decide what works for the residents there. So if someone on the street wants to do it, they just speak to their neighbours first of all and see what would work, how often they want to do it, and you get people involved on your street. Then, you just let everybody know that you’re going to do it, apply to the council, and then you can hold the regular street play sessions. Generally on a playing out session, the difference between a play street and a street party is that during play street sessions, residents still have access to the road. That means that it can happen more regularly.

The way that it practically works on the day is that you will have residents who act as volunteer stewards and they stand at the road closure points with high vis jackets on and a road closed sign and some cones. Then they shut the road for a few hours and let the children play out. But if a resident does need to leave or a car needs to come in, then the stewards blow the whistle, they clear the children off the road, and they steward the car in safely. So it’s about creating a safe space, just for a few hours, where everybody’s welcome to just play and get involved. But also cars are still able to have access. It just means it is able to happen more regularly, because you’re not really disrupting the road. You’re just creating a space for children to play safely, so you’re just making it safe for a few hours so that the children have got the space to play.

SG: Kate got involved with Playing Out 10 years ago and she hasn’t looked back since.

KS: So we actually did Playing Out on my street back in about 2012, 2013. We were the 50th street in Bristol to do it. So we got quite a lot attention, it was very exciting. We ran playing out sessions really regularly on my street. So we used to shut the road after school on a Friday, about four o’clock, we’d just come home from school, shut the road until about six o’clock. We used to do it during the summer every single week. So it was a lovely way to just start the weekend. Then in the winter, we would maybe do it maybe once a month, depending on what the weather was like, depending on how many stewards and volunteers we had to shut the road. But we did it for a couple of years on my street. The benefits were just brilliant. There was just so many positives that just came out of it that I then just started helping other streets in my area that wanted to do it. If there was a neighbour who wanted to do it, I would help them and go to their first session. Then, over the years, I’ve done various bits of work for Playing Out. Supporting residents across the city that want to do it.

SG: I wanted Kate to say a bit more about how she experienced bringing the community together for a play street.

KS: It was brilliant for my street. It just meant that I got to know many more people on my street. Also, my daughter got to know other children on the street and other adults, so it definitely created a sense of community on our street and also a sense of neighbourliness. I felt much safer then as my daughter got older, letting her out to ride her bike on the street on her own, because she knew other people on the street, they knew her. It also meant that we came together. When Covid hit, we already had people’s email addresses and people’s phone numbers, so we were able to form one of those WhatsApp groups immediately. Just already had that connection with people, because we’re so used to being inside. Just stepping outside and speaking to other people on your street is just so powerful.

SG: What would Kate say to someone who wants to get started and get their street ready for playing out?

KS: Well we say to people, that you don’t actually need to provide very much for children to play. They just need a safe space. My daughter learned to scoot, to ride her bike on the street. Whenever we support the street in Bristol to start playing out, we provide them with a kit bag, which has got a skipping rope in and some pavement chalk. That’s a big hit. Children playing hopscotch or just drawing a really long line. There’s always someone that wants to draw a really long line. Skipping. It’s really just giving children the opportunity to play and to discover. They learn so much. Not only physically, but also socially. There will be children with different age groups. The older ones teaching the younger ones how to do things. It’s just really about providing that space, and the children, they just know what to do. There are green spaces across the city and across the country. But children may not be able to get to those spaces safely without getting in a car or without an adult taking them. Doing something just on the doorstep is so much easier and has all these extra added benefits as well.

SG: The initiative has grown and become popular in the UK. So what can Kate tell us about Playing Out across the country?

KS: The idea started in Bristol, and it was Bristol City Council that came up with The Temporary Play Street Order. Then now, it has actually grown across the country and there are over 90 councils across the country, which have either a play street policy or support play streets. Sometimes you might have to apply through a street party application form. Some councils have got designated play street application forms. But we support councils, and also if there’s an individual in an area that wants to get it going, then we can support them to give them all the information they need to help grow that idea with the council. It’s really about getting councils on board to see the benefit of this. If they are able to put the support and policies in place, then it’s just such a positive thing for everybody. So, it really is about councils recognising that this is a really simple thing that they can do, and it will basically run itself as well. We’ve had over 1300 communities that are regularly playing out. There’s really big hubs of it across the country.

SG: Playing out has a lot of benefits and a supportive council helping to facilitate has been vital.

KS: It’s recognising the positives and actually play streets really does tick a lot of boxes for councils. It builds neighbourliness, it builds active citizens. Now as a result of doing it on our street, I then felt way more empowered to make a change where I lived. I joined a local park group. I instigated litter picks and things like that around where I lived. It really did give me a much more sense of belonging. I think it’s just that there has to be that process in place from the council to be supportive, because otherwise you feel like you’re bashing against a shut door. Having policies in place, like we saw over the Jubilee weekend, there was actually a letter from Michael Gove to all councils saying to make the application for street parties free and to make it easy for citizens to apply. Actually we need that I think for more things so that citizens can take some power and make those changes where they live. So there really needs to be that buy-in from councils.

SG: What happened to Playing Out during the Covid lockdowns?

KS: What we’ve actually found that since Covid happened, a lot of streets have got WhatsApp groups. One of the benefits was that neighbours did talk to each other and there were these little support networks that got set up. In that respect, some streets, it was easier to have those first conversations. But it is a scary thing, doing that and being the first person on your street and to go and knock on somebody else’s door is daunting. I always say, if you’re going to do that, just take the children with you [laughs]. Get them to do the door knocking. It’s an intimidating thing to do if you’ve never done anything like that before.

I think it was just really hard for children over that time, but what we were heartened with is that the roads were a bit quieter and a lot of people were reclaiming the space for play. Children were riding their bikes more. I’ve heard lots of stories of children, they’ve got far more confident riding on the roads during lockdowns, because it was just quieter. It did give children the opportunity, if you were able to, to get out and be on the street. Our street, my daughter did play on the street during lockdown, she rode her bike up and down. We did far more bike rides because it felt safer. Also, play streets that had been happening for a long time, as I said with ours, were able to come together as a community and support each other. But just not in an official capacity, I guess.

SG: Do people tend to oppose to play streets? How was the response for Kate when she initiated one in her area? What would she say to someone who wants to get started but are worried about resistance?

KS: I was lucky on my street. We had two emails when I said that I was applying and they were both really supportive. But people do experience that, and very often it’s the fear of the unknown. People don’t really know what to expect. I think that they think that there’s going to be loads of children causing havoc on the street and actually it’s usually a few toddlers going up and down on a scooter. We’ve got loads of videos on our website, which just really clearly shows what a play street looks like. Very often, people can see, okay, it’s just like a normal day, but actually there are more parents out usually. Also, we do say that parents are still responsible for their children. It's not a free for all, there are parents out there supervising. Another angle that I always say to people, if anybody does get any resistance, is just to say, did you play out when you were younger, because most people that grew up in the sixties, seventies, eighties, did have these freedoms that our children now don’t have. It’s just getting people to think of it in a slightly different way.

SG: Kate has mentioned the way play streets create connections across streets. I wanted her to talk a bit more about positive sides of being seen to play out.

KS: I think one of the main things is just people getting to know their neighbours. Like you said, living in a city, we’re also helping people in different settings, so not just a traditional street. We’ve done some work in state settings, in tower blocks. It’s just a way of people getting to know each other. Once you start doing that, other things grow from it. I know one street whereas a result of playing out sessions, they have Friday drinks. They all sit outside on their driveway and start the weekend like that. It’s also spurred babysitting rings and things like that. So people share babysitting. But I think really, one of the main benefits is giving children confidence on their street. With my daughter, I think if we hadn’t had done playing out, I don’t think she would have been as confident going out into the world as she is. She’s 12 now. She’s happy walking back from school or cycling to see a friend or getting on the bus somewhere. I think that really starts on your street. Giving children a bit of independence in that space where they live, in a safe space, means that when they get older, they have more confidence going forward. I think that’s been one of the main benefits for me. Speaking to other people it's just about feeling connected to other people right where you live. Also, it’s not just for people with children. I met people on our street that didn’t have children. If they were walking their dog, they’d come and have a little chat. It was just a way of bringing everybody together, not just people with children. I think the benefits of knowing your neighbours are huge, aren’t they? Myself and a neighbour set up a park group to raise funds and just make our little park that’s down the road just nicer. That was as a result of feeling that you could do something where you lived and make a bit of a difference.

SG: Playing Out are not just helping residents. They have resources for councils too.

KS: Yeah. Very often where a council has taken on a play street policy or has set up a process for people to apply, that’s because there’s been one or two people in that area that have said, I really want this to happen. Then we can help them with that process. We’ve got on our website, we’ve got toolkits for councils, which show them frequently asked questions and how it works in different areas. We’ve got lots and lots of information for councils and for residents who want to get it started where they live. Our website is and there is literally everything you need on there. A lovely thing is there’s lots of videos that take you through the process, and also we’ve got stories from people across the country and also in different settings, sharing their stories and the positive outcomes that they’ve had.

SG: If I’m organising my first playing out session, how would Kate recommend reaching out to my neighbours and get them on board.

KS: Well as part of the application process you need to let all of the residents know that you are applying. You can send out – we suggest that as well sending a formal letter, you send a nice covering letter, just saying it’s open to everyone. But very often, people will just bring out a cup of tea or have a piece of cake. I think there’s much power in cake and actually just saying, if a few people would like to bake a cake, that would be brilliant. That’s sometimes a draw for older residents or people that don’t have children.

The other thing is just encourage people to just bring a chair out. Just sit outside and just have a chat. One of my favourite stories from attending a first play street session was a street where there was a guy who was in his nineties, and he’d live there his whole life and he came out on the first play street session in a suit. He’d been totally waiting for it, and just sat down and spent the whole session speaking to one of his neighbours and telling them all stories about the street. It’s just lovely, because he wouldn’t have got out the house otherwise on that day. He got to know his neighbours, they got to know him. They were able to then keep an eye on him and support him. It’s just a way of bringing people together for a few hours.

It was like one of those moments where I just thought, ah, this is why we do it. It just brought him out and you could just see that he was just so happy. Also, he was saying when he was younger his children played out on the street. It’s not that long ago that things like that used to happen all the time. But all of a sudden it just doesn’t – there aren’t children out playing as often and as independently as we were when were younger. Also, they’re just learning, aren’t they? I think we can’t underestimate how important it is for kids to play. Over the past few years, they really missed out on that. Especially children that don’t have an outdoor space, that don’t have many siblings, or don’t have many friends living close to them. They were out of school for a big chunk of time, they have really missed out on playing.

It’s so important, because they learn physically how to do things but also like we said earlier, socially and learning how to interact with different age groups. How to deal with conflict and you learn - I learn all that from just playing out when I was younger, I just think children need more space to be able to explore that. Children’s playtimes are a lot shorter than they used to be. They’re very often ferried from place to place by car, so just giving them the space and the freedom I think is just so important for their development and their wellbeing. I just think that play is really underestimated and undervalued as well. I’d like there to be a Play Minister, I think there should be someone in charge of play [laughs]. There was an awful lot of street parties over the Jubilee weekend, there were 75 in Bristol. We’re hoping that that will have brought communities together and as a result of that people think, oh we can do it more regularly and more informally going forward.

On my street we held - there was a travelling harpist going round Bristol and we arranged for her to come one day. We also had theatre performance that came and did a performance on our street and I think that’s a result of us being a community already. I think there was a VE day or something like that. We did all gather outside and had a cup of tea together. There were opportunities during the pandemic to come together on the street.

Very often I go and support residents on their first session. I think sometimes, even if you have a really confident resident there, people are still a little bit nervous about shutting the street. Also the logistics of how the stewarding works. I think it’s very helpful sometimes I think for someone’s that’s done it before to just say, this is how it’s going to work, and also just being quite matter of fact about it, I think is important. To give people the confidence to say to a driver, okay we’re just going to clear the road and then we’ll let the car in, if you just follow me down. It’s just showing them that you have to have a bit of authority when you’re doing that, so I’m there to just provide that authority and provide that support and give them the confidence to do it. So that’s one of the best bits of my job, is going to people’s first sessions.

I do support - if there’s a street which maybe needs a little more support, I can go along more regularly and offer my services and just be on hand to act as a steward for the sessions. I’d say that the benefits are just huge. The first thing that you can do to start the process is just step outside your front door. That may be just hanging outside your front door with a cup of tea and just talking to a neighbour. We’ve got a whole section on our website, which is easy enough that there’s things to do to just start speaking to neighbours. Very often, it’s just those first few conversations that just spark a bit of interest in people. Then also just to know that there’s lots of support from us. Whether you’re in Bristol or whether you’re across the country we can help point you in the right direction and support you in your playing out journey.

There we have it. Thank you so much to Kate Staniforth for joining the podcast, it was really great to hear how Playing Out are working. If you want to know more, you can find them on Twitter @playingout or visit

Thank you very much for listening. Should you wish to contact us email

This episode is hosted, edited, and produced for Delib by me, Sabine Groven. Our creative director is Tiffany Maddox. You can visit for great content on people making practical change improving democracy. Bye.