Play It Again, Kids

FOR PENDLEWOOD MANAGING DIRECTOR ALAN PENDLEWOOD PLAY ISN'T JUST A JOB... ITS A PASSION.  HERE, IN A VERY PERSONAL COMMENTARY, HE EVALUATES THE STATE OF PLAY CIRCA 2010 AND THE CHALLENGES THAT THIS PRESENTS THE PLAY INDUSTRY AND SOCIETY AS A WHOLE WITH.

"Well as the 2010 summer holidays kick-in, and another academic year comes to a close, it is a great time for me to draw breath and to stop and take a look at the play industry as a whole. I often find this time of year is when I come up with some of my most profound ideas and inspired discoveries. This year I have really had what many term as "food-for-thought" as I believe a combination of the economic climate, combined with attitudes and the overall culture towards play means it is changing rapidly and uncertainly.

I read with much interest (and some disappointment) the findings of a couple of ICM surveys that were recently commissioned by Play England.

The first was questioned people on a number of issues surrounding children.  The findings were certainly interesting – they really highlighted to me how people believe that an innocent ‘golden age’ of play has been and gone.

  • 47% of adults questioned believe that it is unsafe for children to play out without supervision
  • 36% fear helping a child in need, in case they are suspected of abduction
  • 79% feel community spirit has declined since they were youngsters

Despite these somewhat depressing results the survey wasn’t all doom-and-gloom; there was a couple of what I would term, positive findings:

  • 81% think that children playing outside helps to improve community spirit
  • 70% feel an neighbourhood with children playing out is a more desirable area to live in

I sense from these results that there still is an appetite for children to play out, it is just the harsh reality and cynical culture of today’s society is preventing it. The so-called ‘cotton-wool culture’ is very much prevalent.

I agree fully that the safety of children is the most important factor in any argument. However, we must strive to ensure that this social responsibility does not come at the expense of youngsters’ social, physical and mental development. It’s a balancing act between sensible caution and ensuring that we let ‘children be children’.

The second survey that Play England commissioned was specifically to coincide with Playday, the national campaign to get thousands of children and young people out playing at locally organised events. This one highlighted how times have changed and how a mixture of ‘cotton wool culture’ and the advance of TV and computer games have affected the free time of our youngsters.

They found that 71% of adults played outside close to their homes on a daily basis when they were younger, compared to 21% of children today.  This is a concerning figure and if the trend continues, outdoor play will become a thing of the past, which would be a huge tragedy within itself.

As Play England’s Director, Adrian Voce (perhaps the most respected voice in the industry) commented upon seeing these results, “The decline in child-friendly public space, the increase in cars and the demonisation of young people are all factors. The area where children grow up is immemorial and we all need to do more collectively on the essential childhood experiences that form us into the adults we become. Let us remember that children with regular access to playable spaces are much more likely to enjoy childhood and grow up healthier and happier.”

I have highlighted that final sentence because it was one I found particularly gratifying. It pretty much some sums up the ethos that has been behind Pendlewood for the past 15 years and is the underlying factor behind all our play range. Our range of equipment is all about making play accessible and enjoyable within the framework of allowing children to develop socially, mentally and physically.

Everybody passionate about play and preserving the many benefits it brings should visit www.playengland.org.uk and look at the sterling work that they are doing promoting this wonderful and crucial component of growing up. At first the results of these surveys may well have been depressing and disappointing but after this analysis I feel they are merely highlighting the state of play (no pun intended, seriously, this is no laughing matter) and challenges we face. With positive attitudes and a commitment from both the public and government, then who knows, perhaps the next golden era of play is just around the corner..."

Alan Pendlewood - Play it Again, kids Alan Pendlewood - Play it Again, kids