Outdoor Play and Community Spaces

Together members: Play Scotland and the Scottish Out of Schools Care Network (SOSCN) 

UNCRC Article 31 (right to play)

Children have the right to have fun in the way they want to. Being able to relax and unwind is vital to a child or young person’s health and happiness.  

“Children say that playing is the best thing about being a child. Play in the community can be restricted because of feeling or being unsafe in public places and adult worries can restrict outdoor play experiences which means play and fun activities at school become even more important. Children want school playgrounds to be stimulating places where they can feel free. Every playground should be like a garden, with places to explore.” 

‘What Kind of Scotland?’ (Children’s Parliament, page 19) 

 “I have consulted with around 360 young people in my constituency. A rights issue which was raised was that many young people felt that, outwith their education, they had nothing to do in their community. When young people are not in school they found that accessing services that allowed them to socialise was problematic, poorly maintained or in some cases non-existent. 

During consultations, a number of views were expressed, including: Me and my friends like to go out on our bikes, but some of the bike paths around here are overgrown. Another popular view was: “There are a few play parks in my area but most of them are run down and designed for younger kids. 

With an increase in Scotland’s young people suffering from poor mental health and rising obesity, it is vital that my constituents have equal opportunities to socialise, take part in sport and access activities as young people living in larger towns and cities. Young people should not enjoy their rights any less just because of where they live – there should be no postcode lottery on accessing our rights to play.” 

Cadely Paton MSYP (SYP Rights Review, April 2018) 

Outdoor play is essential for children’s wellbeing and healthy development yet barriers to access and changing habits mean opportunities for outdoor play can be restricted 

The ways children and young people spend their time has changed significantly over the last 30 years, with less time spent playing outdoors and a huge increase in screen-based entertainment. Access to play spaces varies markedly across Scotland with many children and young people facing barriers such as poverty, disadvantage or disability discrimination. Children also say that the condition of play spaces, anti-social behaviour and the distance to parks all contribute to restricted opportunities for them to play. 

Children want to be part of the conversation about their community’s development and frequently highlight the need for safer, more accessible and welcoming spaces to play: 

People are the most important thing about our communities, but we also need building and spaces to be safe and what is broken needs to be fixed. We need to have our say about issues that matter, so we can make things better for everyone that lives in our community.”

(Children’s Parliament, Mapping our Future (2014)  

Recent developments show a commitment from some local authorities to uphold children’s right to outdoor play (Article 31) and their right to participate in decision-making (Article 12). For example, following Play Scotland’s 2012 audit of play spaces in Dundee which highlighted access and suitability issues, Dundee City Council announced a pilot scheme whereby 15 school playgrounds would be made open to the public for use outside school hours. Children’s views were sought in developing signage for the areas and what would make the spaces more attractive to them. Responses from children highlighted that opening the playgrounds after school hours had been very positive: 

“It’s better (to play in the playground) than the park because it’s close and there are shops nearby”

(Child, P6) 

A further example is Aberdeen City Council’s endorsement of the “Hazlehead Trailblazers” out of school service which opened in May 2018. The service, run by Community Link Childcare (CliCC), supports children to spend a significant amount of their time outdoors in the park and interacting with the animals in the nearby petting zoo. The endorsement shows a welcome commitment to upholding children’s right to outdoor play through implementation of the Council’s Out of School Care Policy and Practice Guidelines and its 2018 Play Policy and Strategy. 

At national level, the Scottish Government developed and published its first national Play Strategy and corresponding Action Plan in 2013. A cross-sector Play Strategy Group supported implementation of the Action Plan in partnership with Scottish Government from 2014-16, however there is currently no such group in operation. In 2018, over 50 individuals and organisations, including Scottish Government, signed a National Position Statement to make playing and learning outdoors an everyday activity for all Scotland’s children and young people. The statement asserts the health, wellbeing and educational benefits of playing and learning outdoors and commits signatories to help widen access to natural and communal spaces and to enriching urban spaces for children and families to play in. 

Incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law would help strengthen these positive local and national developments. Incorporation would promote the use of child-rights based budgeting and decision making, essential to ensure that children’s right to play is upheld when planning, housing and transport decisions are being made. Children and young people must be included in these decisions and incorporation will help ensure this participation in meaningful, consistent and ongoing.  

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