Foreword by Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London VI

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Part 2 – Preparing a play strategy

6 the methodology and stages to preparing a play strategy


6.1 This section of the guide makes recommendations for producing and implementing a play strategy. It is designed to be used in conjunction with the Mayor’s Guide to Preparing Open Space Strategies, with which it shares a general structure and some suggested methodologies. Those responsible for preparing the OSS should be involved from the outset in order to avoid duplication and ensure that the two strategies are integrated wherever possible and desirable. A staged approach is recommended, as set out below:

1 Preparation and scoping

2 Review

3 Identifying, mapping and auditing current provision

4 Consultation

5 Analysis and identification of objectives

6 Preparation of the strategy and action plan.

Process and development

6.2 While setting out a suggested approach, it is recognised that each local authority is different in the current status of its play provision, the history and role of its children’s services, the development of its OSS and in the current needs and aspirations of its communities. The process set out should not therefore be considered prescriptive, although certain key elements are strongly recommended.

6.3 It is essential that the right people are engaged, both across the borough, including the voluntary sector, and vertically within the council, as described in paragraph 5.10. Equally, the values and principles underpinning the strategy should be founded in a sound understanding of the importance of play, children’s participation and the diversity of environmental, spatial and social factors affecting these.

Involving children and young people

6.4 Consideration of, and decisions about, the involvement of children and young people in the process should be made at the earliest possible
point in the process if it is to be a meaningful and mutually beneficial engagement. Links should be made with the local children and young people’s participation and consultation officer and youth parliament
as appropriate.

6.5 Stage 4 deals with specific methods for consulting young people and offers suggestions for good practice. From the outset, though, the strategy group should establish its policy on children’s participation. It is worth asking basic questions:

• Why are we consulting children?

• What do we want to achieve for ourselves and the children involved?

• When and at what stages is it appropriate?

• Is this to be a one-off exercise or a regular activity of the implementation?

• At what level are we planning to consult children?

• How are we planning to achieve this?

• Do we have the expertise and resources to undertake these activities? If not, what extra resources do we need or have to pool?

Stage 1: Preparation and scoping

Managing the process

6.6 As the corporate nature of the strategy will need to arise from the involvement and engagement of a range of key officers and departments and include key stakeholder representatives, it is recommended that a Play Strategy Group be formed to steer the process.

Lead officers and play champions

6.7 Many local authorities in London have experienced and qualified play practitioners in management positions or development roles. Where this is not the case, it will be an important first step to recruit such a person to be the lead officer with responsibility for researching, consulting,
co-ordinating and drafting proposals for the strategy. It is vital that the lead officer has a full understanding of the diverse nature of children’s play and its relevance to the full range of local authority and community activities.

6.8 As well as a lead officer it is strongly recommended that the authority designates a play champion, who can advocate for the strategy in the council’s policy discussions and provide political leadership. This should, ideally, be a cabinet member, other senior elected member or a departmental director. In Croydon, for example (see Appendix C), the involvement of the Chief Executive’s office provided political leadership and gave authority to the development work of a specially recruited Play Strategy Officer. Without such authority, it is less likely that the strategy will develop at a sufficiently senior policy level to be effective.

External advice and facilitation

6.9 It is also recommended that, particularly where the authority does not have an established play service and may therefore lack the relevant expertise, consideration be given to the involvement of external agencies with specific knowledge, skills and experience in play policy and practice. A list of current play agencies is contained in Appendix E.

6.10 Representatives of children and young people’s organisations and bodies, such as the United Kingdom Youth Parliament, youth councils, school councils, peer mentors etc, should also be involved.

Agreeing the principles

6.11 An effective, value-led strategy first requires a clear and coherent policy framework based on an agreed set of principles and understandings. These should be set out in a Play Policy Statement based on agreed definitions of play, its value for the children and young people within the borough, and a clear vision and purpose for the strategy. The formulation of this statement should consider certain key issues such as: understandings about play’s role in child development; the importance of consulting and engaging children and young people; risk and safety; inclusion of all children and young people; and children and young people’s use of shared public space.

6.12 The necessary diversity of the steering group means that arriving at common understandings, shared values and joint objectives will not necessarily be easy. A literature review is recommended and, while the range of publications that could inform such a process is potentially vast, there are some key texts quoted throughout this document, with suggested further reading in Appendix B.

6.13 It is recommended that the literature review be supplemented by some play policy workshops, which could be led by the lead officer or an external facilitator. The purpose should be to arrive at a shared understanding of play at an early stage in the process and so avoid wasted effort later. The literature review might inform the development of a ‘key issues’ paper, which would provide the basis for discussion in the policy workshops. The purpose is to create shared ownership of the policy proposals that will emerge, based on common understanding about children’s play and its role for the borough’s children.

6.14 During this stage of the process, there should be an inclusive consultation with the community reflecting local diversity – including children and young people and parents/carers – in order to establish their view of what the broad aims of the strategy should be. The later, more detailed consultation will be more about finding out what local children and their families want for their area.

6.15 Once the principles and broad aims are agreed, a Play Policy Statement should state clearly what these are and what they are based on. The Audit Commission has produced a model statement of principles in support of its Best Value Performance Indicator for local Play Policies and Strategies (BVPI 115) and this is reproduced in full (see box below). During the pilot project to test this guidance, Tower Hamlets and Sutton found this model useful in developing their play policy statements.

Model statement of principles for a play strategy

The Audit Commission includes this model statement as a supplement to its Best Value Performance Indicator for developing local play strategies (reproduced in full in Appendix A):

The Authority recognises the significance and value of play and the poverty of play opportunities in the general environment. It is committed to ensuring that all children have access to rich, stimulating environments, both in and out of doors, free from unacceptable risks, thereby offering them the opportunity to explore through their freely chosen play, both themselves and the world. The policy is based on the understanding that every child needs opportunities to play both on their own and, crucially, with others.

The Authority is committed to ensuring that environments, services and provision for play are attractive, welcoming and accessible to every child irrespective of age, gender, background or origin, or of individual capacities and abilities.

The Authority will work towards increasing play opportunities for and eliminating barriers to the take-up of play provision by disabled children and children with specific cultural needs. This will take the form of developing increased inclusive provision or, if necessary, separate provision, recognising that separate provision may sometimes be a valuable staging post for particularly vulnerable children. Use of specialist services should only be at the choice of the child or their advocate and all mainstream services must be welcoming and accessible to all children.

The Authority recognises that:

• children play in a of variety public spaces as well as in
dedicated provision

• play environments should provide safe, stimulating play
opportunities that place children at the centre of the play process

• children need to encounter and learn to manage an acceptable
level of risk in their play

• children’s views should be sought and listened to

• children should have access to the widest possible range of play experiences and play environments, both indoors and outside.

Judgements about quality in provision will be based on the degree to which children are provided with opportunities to experience directly:

the natural elements – earth, air, fire and water

fabricated and natural materials and tools – consumables,
‘loose parts’

challenge – in the physical environment, in the social context
and in private

free movement – running, jumping, climbing, rolling, balancing

emotions – both painful and pleasurable, the chance to validate a range of feelings

a variety of stimulation to the senses – hearing, taste, smell, touch, sight

play with identity – drama, dressing up, role plays, masks,
face painting

varied social interactions – freely chosen across the age, ability, gender, ethnic and cultural barriers, co-operating, resolving conflict, chatting, negotiating, sharing

change – building/demolishing, transforming environments, the effect of the seasons and weather, growth and decay, predicting and planning, interesting physical environments – plantings, varied levels, enclosed/open spaces, mounds, steps, walls, shelters, surfaces, platforms, seating, privacy, vistas, flexibility.

Audit Commission (BVPI 115)

6.16 Early in this preparatory stage should be an assessment of the resources and skills that will be required to complete the remaining stages of the strategy’s preparation. These should be identified and secured before proceeding to Stage 2.

Stage 2: Review

6.17 There are some key questions to begin the process of reviewing current play provision in the borough, which should then be placed within the national, regional and local policy context. These questions might include:

• Which services within the local authority deliver play opportunities?

• Which other organisations deliver provision?

• What relationships exist between different providers?

• Who is involved in the planning and development of play provision in the borough?

• What written plans and policies are there?

• What do these documents cover and how are they implemented?

• How does play provision fit into other local authority priorities
and initiatives?

• Are there processes for mediating between children’s play needs and the needs of others?

6.18 Apart from assessing the use of space, the Play Strategy Group will also want to consider questions about resources. These might include:

• How much is spent on play provision?

• What is the spending per child or resident?

• How is this spending allocation between different provisions?

• Are Section 106 agreements used to provide/improve play provision?

• Are other funding streams available for play provision?

6.19 The play strategy will need to take account of a range of national, regional and local policies and initiatives across the full range of relevant areas. This is an important stage; ensuring that there is a strategic fit with regional and national strategies and opportunities but based always on the understanding and policy commitments established at Stage 1. In drafting the strategy, the group should seek to make the appropriate links and demonstrate how it helps the borough to meet corporate objectives within this wider context. Some of the key current policy areas to be considered are set out in Part I, Chapter 4.

Stage 3: Identifying, mapping and auditing current provision

6.20 This part of the process will need to be methodical and systematic in order to arrive at a sound understanding of the extent, the quality and the accessibility of existing play spaces and play opportunities. The following steps are offered as guidelines.

1 Desktop study and identification of children’s play space

2 Develop a play space typology

3 Audit of existing provision:

• assessment of the quantity of play spaces

• qualitative assessment of play spaces

• assessment of the social and physical accessibility of play spaces

Desktop study

6.21 In deciding what play spaces to include in the audit, consideration should be given to the range of spaces within the agreed scope of the strategy. As a minimum, audits should assess areas where play is intended to be at least one of the functions of the space.

Dedicated play spaces

6.22 These will be where play is identified as one of the prime functions. These include playgrounds, playing fields, skate parks and other recreation areas. Dedicated play spaces can be publicly owned and open to public access. Many private play spaces are outside the influence of local authorities, such as play areas in shopping centres and private gardens. Dedicated play spaces can be supervised – such as adventure playgrounds and play clubs – or unsupervised areas. They may include play equipment and facilities, such as playgrounds, skateboard parks, basketball hoops and teenage shelters. Alternatively they may be informal non-equipped areas, such as landscaped areas and playing fields that can be used for a variety of recreational activities, including children’s play.

Adventure playgrounds

6.23 Because of the added human and material resources they afford, supervised play facilities – especially those with substantial open spaces like adventure playgrounds – often provide opportunities for children to experience more challenging, exciting and creative activities than are otherwise available. The Best Play objectives are most achievable through this type of provision.

6.24 Adventure playgrounds typically include indoor play facilities and options as well as the characteristic and perennially popular rope-swings, aerial runways and elaborate climbing structures. They offer to children a level of physically challenging play, and a range of other activities – from making fires and building dens to cooking and arts and crafts – within a safe environment and where their choice is paramount. They can offer extremely positive play opportunities to disabled children and young people. This is enabled through the presence of trained playworkers who also provide positive adult interaction and role models. Estimates suggest that the number of adventure playgrounds in London has reduced from around 150 to just 80 during the past 15 to 20 years.38

Non-dedicated play spaces

6.25 The general public realm – streets, estates and open space – especially in residential neighbourhoods, is probably the most commonly accessed environment for children’s play and yet rarely designed for it. Children have always played in the street where they live more than anywhere else. Even children with back gardens will often prefer it, as it offers opportunities to meet friends while still being close to home. As discussed earlier, streets have become less and less safe owing to the increase in volume and speed of traffic. Environmental traffic management and the rethinking of street design should be considered with a view to children’s neighbourhood play needs. One solution, which embraces all these issues, is the Home Zones concept.

‘Neighbourhoods should be recognisably designed, maintained and managed in children’s interests and should include the principles contained in the Department of Transport’s Home Zone programme.’

The Mayor’s Children and Young People’s Strategy, 2004

Home Zones

6.26 A Home Zone is a street, or group of streets, where people and vehicles share space safely and on equal terms. They are part of the Mayor’s policy to create more child-friendly neighbourhoods and to generally improve the quality of life for London’s communities. They can include traffic calming measures, reconfiguring the road, creative parking, and the installation of benches, planting, play and informal sports areas. Ideally, they are designed – according to local need and with active community participation – to encourage people of all ages to use and enjoy the public space in their immediate environment. Home Zones are attracting funding from a range of environmental and regeneration budgets. As well as the Mayor’s Children and Young People’s Strategy, Home Zones are also part of Transport for London’s Streets for People programme.
Well-designed Home Zones, developed with the participation of children and young people and their families as well as the wider community, can be a major part of the solution to creating play-friendly neighbourhoods. There are examples of Home Zones in the boroughs of Ealing, Camden and Tower Hamlets, among others. More information can be found at or from London Play at

6.27 It is advisable, where possible, to include a wider appraisal of the public realm from a children’s play perspective as part of the play strategy, and for these findings and considerations to be integral to wider discussions informing policy and strategy affecting the planning of spatial development. The borough Unitary Development Plan is one key document that might be used to inform this process.

6.28 In addition to information contained within council departments, other organisations may have information on play spaces within the borough that can be used in the strategy. It is important to maximise existing information to avoid duplication. For example the GLA Open Space and Habitat Survey of Greater London, as outlined in the OSS Guide, will have such information, although only on sites larger than 0.25ha.

6.29 Some open space will not be considered appropriate and may be dangerous, such as building sites and railway lines, and where these are being used by children, particular care should be given to developing or improving safer alternatives.

6.30 Some areas are deemed unsuitable for play by sections of the adult community because of potential or actual conflict with other activities in the area. These can often be made more available for children by reducing tensions. Education, consultation and mediation – leading to improved understanding between children and young people and adults – can be part of the strategy’s development and implementation.

Example: Appraising play in the public realm

The London Borough of Camden’s Play Service mapped the use of the public realm for play through the use of a pro-forma observational survey. It recorded by area, age and ethnicity the type of environments where children and young people where playing, the type of activity and the level of adult supervision. The categories of location were:

• library

• park/square

• street

• doorstep

• playground

• open space – grassed

• open space – non-grassed

• shopping area

• sports pitch/area

• train station

• other.

Where do Children Play in Camden? LB Camden, 2003

6.31 Pooling knowledge and ideas from a range of local authority departments will help to identify types of space to include in the audit. Engagement with external play practitioners and with local play providers would also help in this process. External organisations with data on children’s play spaces might include:

• London Play

• children’s funds

• local play associations


• Barnardo’s

• the Children’s Society

• Greater London Authority

• Groundwork

• London Parks and Green Spaces Forum

• housing associations.

Borough departments that may have data on children’s play space include the Play and Youth Services, the Education Department, the Children’s Information Service, the Parks, Planning and Housing Departments and Community Services.

Using geographical information systems (GIS)

6.32 GIS (the generic term for computer-based mapping and data assessment tools increasingly used by local authorities) can be a valuable tool for the preparation, monitoring and review of the play strategy and is recommended as the best way to record, analyse and maintain information throughout the process. Centralised data is also available from Greenspace Information for Greater London (GIGL) at

6.33 GIS helps to identify areas of deficiency, measure catchment areas and relate the distribution of play spaces to socio-economic and demographic characteristics, ie areas with a high number of children and areas with potentially greater needs. Crucially it can be used to identify real travel distances and likely barriers to accessibility, such as busy roads.

6.34 Mapping the data collected in the audit on GIS makes it much easier to monitor changes in play provision and add these to the database, making long-term planning and monitoring easier. Some authorities use a GIS database, or database system linked to GIS, as a more sophisticated tool to assist in the maintenance of play space (eg London Borough of Bexley). Maintenance tasks and requirements can be included in the database as part of day-to-day management. The OSS Guide sets out some minimum criteria for standard collection. Boroughs may wish to use this in order to facilitate benchmarking and sharing of information.

Developing a play space typology

6.35 Typologies of play space should be developed by individual boroughs to reflect their local characteristics and facilities, and how local children perceive their environment. Planning Policy Guidance 17 (PPG 17) sets out a typology of open space. Play space is included, described as play areas, skateboard parks, outdoor basketball hoops and other, more informal areas.

6.36 Within housing estates and new developments, provision should be made for young children to play safely and for older children and teenagers, including kickabout areas. Estates should be designed so that children can walk and cycle freely and safely.

6.37 The decision to describe a playground by any particular category will inevitably have a degree of subjectivity. The following two-tier typology is suggested as a starting point from which boroughs can develop individual classifications according to local conditions. The first tier identifies the type of space, the second the type of facility. The descriptions relate to purpose, rather than rigid physical attributes, such as the number of items of equipment or the amount of space.

Note that hierarchies and typologies do not include streets, estates or other built-up public space. The wider appraisal of the public realm referred to in paragraph 2.4 should supplement these descriptors.

Tier 1 – Description of location

6.38 For the purposes of an audit, the spaces where children play will be detailed and a proportion of these will not be playgrounds as such. It is therefore suggested that the following be used as a first tier; they may or may not contain playgrounds.

• Playground – The primary purpose of the space is that of a playground and it will have some equipment, or design, that clearly indicates this to be the case.

• Open space (small) – This will be informal open space, usually in close proximity to housing and smaller in size than a quarter of an acre (one quarter of a football pitch).

• Open space (larger) – This will be informal green space, usually in close proximity to housing and of a more substantial size.

• Playing field – A large area, mainly of flat grass, that either has, or is intended to have, sports pitches on it.

• Local park – A park within an area of housing, which is essentially for the use of local people. It would not generally attract people from other areas. Local children probably attend unaccompanied.

• Destination park – This would be a major town park, or country park, that is primarily used by people as a special visit location. The majority will arrive by car, public transport or cycle; it may or may not have housing nearby. The majority of children attending will be accompanied.

• Ball games area – A flat area, usually surfaced, which has one or a combination of basketball net, goal etc. Its primary purpose is for informal use.

• Other – Not covered by any of the above.

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