UK families tell of threats and police warnings over children playing in street

Readers say they are afraid to let children outside after warnings from authorities and neighbours’ threats

Cars, dog poo and delivery drivers: why children don’t play out anymore

Families are facing threats and police warnings for letting their children play in the street, Guardian readers have reported, leaving parents afraid to let their children spend time outside.

Liz Swift thought a basketball hoop on wheels pushed to the corner of her street on sunny afternoons would be a great way to keep her 13-year-old active. But the local authority did not agree. The family received letters from Waltham Forest council warning them that children playing in the street were “causing a nuisance to neighbours”.

She said: “The council told me they were breaking the law with their games because they were obstructing the highway. They always move out of the way for cars and they are never out after dark.”

Then in February, said Swift, the police arrived to investigate a report about her children playing. “The police took no action when they saw what was happening but the council asbo team are insistent the children can’t play there. They even came to examine a wall after a ball went over it, telling me it was unacceptable.

“I’ve told them there is no way I am telling my children to stop. I just will not. The odd ball over a wall is part of life and helping children be healthy and play safely near home.”

She pointed out that the corner they play on was designed as a low traffic “parklet” by the council. In a video promoting the design – which won an environmental award last year – children are shown playing in the space.

Waltham Forest council said the playing had gone on late in the evening and had hit cars and gardens. They said they were supporting “distressed residents whose homes and vehicles have been repeatedly damaged by ballgames”. They said they would not supply evidence of the damage for confidentiality reasons.

In a statement Khevyn Limbajee, the cabinet member for community safety, pointed to nearby parks that were available and said: “Everyone deserves to expect peace and quiet in their homes, especially late in the evening. We will work to balance the right for children to play in their neighbourhood with the right for others to feel safe and comfortable in their own home.”

When the Guardian community desk asked, “Do your children face problems playing outside?”, among the hundreds of replies a number of people reported warnings from authorities or threats from neighbours.

Kerry (not her real name) is a teacher in Wales and had a visit from social services after a neighbour reported her children playing “day and night”.

“We live in a cul-de-sac. Our young children play out on scooters. It’s never for more than an hour while we keep an eye on them. Social services came and saw our children were always in view of our house and marked it as a malicious call. Somebody clearly is anti-children on our road and it made me very angry but it won’t stop us letting them play again.”

In Newham, east London, Ilona Saber said she faced opposition from neighbours and authority figures for allowing her young son to play on their quiet road while keeping an eye on him from home.

“Over the past couple of years I have had police knock on my door about reports my young son was in danger because he was playing near the house and then last summer Newham council street enforcement officers brought my son to my door because they saw him playing with friends near our house and were concerned.”

She said when she tried to bring a safe play area to an unused space on the street, neighbours fought to stop it. “I got council funding for some small play equipment for a little unused corner on our road. It was all ready to go. But neighbours wrote to our MP saying it would disturb their peace and they found a procedural issue with the consultation despite our efforts and the councils to involve people. Sadly they were able to stop it.”

As thousands of new homes spring up across the UK, anti-child bias has been found on developments with families left frightened they would be evicted for letting children play in communal areas. Alice Ferguson, co-founder of the campaign group Playing Out, said: “There is a serious crisis in children’s physical and mental health in this country, yet some people still want to stop children having the time and space to play outside together. We need to accept that children live in communities and have a right to be seen and heard. A bit of noise from children playing outside is a small price to pay for a happier, healthier generation.”

Nancy (not her real name) lives in Hampshire. “We live in a cul-de-sac and let our young children play out with friends. Then a neighbour shocked us all by accelerating and deliberately driving at us and our children in anger. I only just managed to get the children off the road in time. The youngest was still a toddler. This neighbour accused us of ‘turning the neighbourhood into a council estate’. She said our children should be in a park.”

Nancy said it had stopped them. “Sadly it has frightened us inside. They occasionally go to the local green, which is full of dog poo, to play with a ball but a neighbour also complains about that. And the local park only has a playground for very young children.

“I find it heartbreaking. I have great memories of playing out for hours with friends of all ages. All this is lost to children these days. To get exercise they have to go to organised sports clubs or be taken on walks and bike rides. That’s not play, it’s very controlled, and I wonder what it’s doing to their mental health.”


Harriet Grant

The GuardianTramp

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