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‘Children’s outdoor play is essential’: When will play areas reopen?

PUBLISHED: 06:30 05 June 2020

Signs in Eaton Park warning public of coronavirus and closed play areas. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Signs in Eaton Park warning public of coronavirus and closed play areas. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

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Taped off with ‘closed until further notice’ signs up to prevent the spread of coronavirus, play areas and equipment remain out of bounds.

The Stoven Close children's play area, overseen by Lowestoft Town Council, in north Lowestoft remains out of bounds. Pictures: Mark BoggisThe Stoven Close children's play area, overseen by Lowestoft Town Council, in north Lowestoft remains out of bounds. Pictures: Mark Boggis

Swings, slides, zip lines, seesaws, climbing frames and fun play equipment across the region – often a magnet for adventurous youngsters – have been out of use for more than two months.

And despite calls for play areas to reopen as measures are eased amid the lockdown, it looks like fed-up children will have to wait a while longer to climb, explore and enjoy these activities once more.

As some schools reopened this week, the lead organisation representing the UK’s play sector has now called for answers from the government on when children will be able play in outdoor areas again.

With play areas across Norfolk and Waveney closing in March as part of the battle to reduce the spread of coronavirus, they remain closed in line with government guidance.

The play area in Station Road, Ormesby St Margaret, has been taped off to prevent the spread of coronavirus Picture: Liz CoatesThe play area in Station Road, Ormesby St Margaret, has been taped off to prevent the spread of coronavirus Picture: Liz Coates

The Association of Play Industries (API) has urged the prime minister to set out when and how public playgrounds will be brought back into use.

Chairman of the API Mark Hardy said: “Children’s outdoor play is essential for their normal development.

“Children have been in lockdown for months, many with limited or no outside space.”

He said it was “astonishing” that no mention had been made of public playgrounds.

Play areas in West Norfolk have been closed to stop the spread of coronavirus. Picture: Chris BishopPlay areas in West Norfolk have been closed to stop the spread of coronavirus. Picture: Chris Bishop

At the end of March, South Norfolk District Council said it “put the safety of our communities first” as it closed all of its 75 play areas, saying the facilities posed a “high cross-contamination risk of the virus”.

Asked about reopening the closed play areas, a council spokesman said: “The health, wellbeing and safety of our residents is the council’s priority and we will reopen our play areas when central government tells us that it is safe for us to do.”

Sharing similar sentiments, a Dereham Town Council spokesman said: “We manage 12 play areas.

“As far as I am aware it is currently still the law that play areas must be closed.

The Stoven Close children's play area, overseen by Lowestoft Town Council, in north Lowestoft remains out of bounds. Pictures: Mark BoggisThe Stoven Close children's play area, overseen by Lowestoft Town Council, in north Lowestoft remains out of bounds. Pictures: Mark Boggis

“As soon as the law changes and the government deems it safe for them to open, Dereham play areas will be open again.”

Mary Rudd, East Suffolk council’s cabinet member for community health, said: “Our play areas, skate parks and outdoor gyms remain closed as per government guidelines, and we ask that people do not access these.”

A Lowestoft Town Council spokesman added: “The town council has carefully monitored and applied Government guidance on play areas, which remains to keep them closed given the difficulty in enforcing social distancing for children during play.

“We greatly value the pleasure and opportunity for exercise that our play areas provide and we have invested in enhancements which we look forward to children enjoying when it is safer to do so.”

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Time outdoors

As lockdown measures are eased, people are now able to spend time outdoors with up to six people from other households, as long as they practice social distancing and stay at least two metres apart.

Mary Rudd, East Suffolk council’s cabinet member for community health, said: “We know that East Suffolk’s parks and green spaces are great locations to spend time outdoors with friends and family, but we ask that everyone follows the government’s guidelines when visiting our outdoor spaces.

“This includes only participating in activities and sports with people outside of your own household if it is possible to keep a two-metre distancing at all times, such as tennis.

“Other sports, such as football, are harder to play safely for the time being.

“To help keep our outdoor spaces safe for everyone, please don’t enter areas where you can’t practice social distancing.

“If it feels too crowded, it is too crowded.”

What do you think?

As young children count the hours until they can return to outside play areas, there are mixed views locally on when it will be safe for youngsters to start using the facilities again.

With some parents expressing concerns over the return of children to the classroom, similar angst has been shared among locals.

As lockdown measures are eased, asked on the EDP Facebook page whether they thought it was safe for children to now have access to playgrounds, Richard Hodds said: “No, as a recent school closure shows how easily Covid-19 can rear its ugly head, the anxious wait for those who were tested was bad enough, but how could you trace the people exposed from a play park?”

Richard Evans called for children to explore elsewhere.

“Do they know there are lots of woods and forests to explore, trees to climb, take a rope make a swing,” he said.

“Playgrounds are not that important. We live in Norfolk.”

Beverley Lee however said that “a lot of kids are out on the streets already,” and Peter Chance added: “After seeing how busy a local park was at the weekend you would think it’s already been lifted.”


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