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Children’s Play

2 March 2009

I spent the final day of the Big-Thinking consultation in Cambridge chairing a conference about children’s play.

I have blogged previously about the £155 million we have commited to this cause throughout England. It was interesting to debate with those responsible for translating the cash into facilities that kids will enjoy, especially those who might be least expected to be able to play outdoors, what progress is being made. Adrian Voce, the Director of Play England, set out extremely clearly how Lottery money had raised the profile and understanding of what individual, family and community benefit derives from young people having permission, space and opportunity to play outdoors. There is encouraging progress against all three declared objectives: provision; participation; satisfaction. He described the programme as an excellent example of “intelligent funding” by the Lottery – spotting an area with a major potential impact on the quality of life where there “wasn’t any policy to speak of” and then using money to galvanise and secure lasting change.

We spent the afternoon taking a look at how Cambridge City was implementing its play strategy and where Lottery money was making its distinct impact. We took a look at where children will help design a play trail through a disused area of the partkland around Cherry Hinton Hall and we heard from the young man who is leading a Play Boat project where, again, young people themselves, are helping design a facility that will travel the Cam offering moored play sessions and sleepovers.

I know that the origins of the Children’s Play investment are not everyone’s cup of tea. The Government announced earmarked New Opportunities Fund cash for the programme ahead of the 2001 General Election. Interestingly, the subsequent creation of the Big Lottery Fund gave the Board the chance to slip out from under this sort of top down programming (and there was much anxiety among those speaking up for children’s play at the time that this might happen.) However, the case for investment was deemed sufficiently strong for them to choose to press ahead and there can be no doubt that a legacy of impressive play areas and a raised profile for the value of children’s play among other funders are both being secured as a result.

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