City names first play champion for children

These boys from the early 70s would have had less trouble with busy traffic. Picture: TSPL
These boys from the early 70s would have had less trouble with busy traffic. Picture: TSPL
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PLANS to close off city streets to allow children to play safely are to be considered following the appointment of the city’s first-ever play champion.

Councillor Keith Robson has been tasked with getting the Capital’s kids up and active.

One initiative he will be considering are play streets, where residents can apply for a temporary order, allowing them to close their road for several hours per week or month.

The ground-breaking scheme has proved successful in various other UK cities such as Bath, London and Bristol. A number of play streets were also set up in Edinburgh a number of years ago.

Another initiative the fun tsar is considering could see play rangers tasked with setting up various play sites at locations such as disused car parks or local woodland.

The scheme, which has been introduced in Glasgow, has proven popular with parents and children as it allows kids to do things like climb trees or explore woods - but with an added safety factor.

Cllr Robson hopes to convene his first play forum featuring various community groups and schools in early January with a view to submitting a report to council by May 2014.

He said: “Play streets is a scheme which I am keen to consider. It has been a success in various other cities but of course we will have to see how it works for Edinburgh.

“Traffic flow will obviously be part of that discussion but it is an initiative that many groups seem keen to support.

“The council cannot do this on our own so a range of groups will be part of the discussion.”

He added: “The city council has been running National Play Day with the play bus outside the City Chambers for a number of years, but play streets would be more than that.”

Cllr Robson’s new job will also include building on Play Days for under-fives held in the last couple of years by putting together a programme for a more wide-ranging Festival of Play.

And experts have called for the appointment to help highlight the importance of playtime to everything from sporting achievement to general happiness in later life. Paul Dickson, of Inspiring Scotland Go2Play Fund, which sponsored a big play event in Leith in the summer, welcomed the formation of the new role.

He said: “Any initiative which helps to champion the importance of play is a welcome one. Play makes a tremendous contribution to happy and healthy childhoods.

“In turn this makes children much more likely to grow up into happy and healthy adults who can achieve their potential and make the most of their lives. There are lots of ways that cities can be places for children and we welcome this new ­initiative to support play in our capital city.

This view was echoed by Alex Cole Hamilton, convenor of Together (the Scottish alliance for childrens rights), who said: “The right to play is a fundamental pillar of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“It is incredibly important for children’s development on a number of levels and I am delighted to see the City of Edinburgh Council embrace the aspirations of the Scottish Government’s Play Strategy.

“Knowing Keith personally I am fully aware of his commitment to children’s rights and he will make an excellent ­inaugural Play Champion for the city.”

david.oleary@edinburghnews.com