School playgrounds could be opened to communities

School playgrounds are to be opened up to children out of school hours. Picture: Bill Henry
School playgrounds are to be opened up to children out of school hours. Picture: Bill Henry
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SCHOOL yards will be unlocked after hours and ­during holidays under ­groundbreaking plans to open up children’s play areas to nearby communities.

The radical blueprint would fling open gates at 137 school playgrounds in a move set to dramatically increase the amount of play space available to children.

Currently, less than one-fifth of schools allow their playgrounds to be used out of hours, with that permission determined by headteachers.But the new proposals would see the buck stop at City Chambers instead – amid growing enthusiasm to allow council-owned play areas to be used.

It comes as the city prepares to transform the grounds of six city schools into flagship ­play parks with Scottish ­Government funding.

However the News understands the entire Capital estate is set for a major face-lift in the coming years. Children’s campaigners have lauded Edinburgh’s vision as “trailblazing” and said it was the first ­Scottish council to introduce such ­“positive steps”.

Education convenor Paul Godzik said his ambition was to “encourage free play” in safe environments. He said: “We think there should be a policy where the presumption is that all of them should be open to provide a safe place for ­children to play.

“In an urban community in the middle of the city that is something we need to do.”

Under the Holyrood windfall, major play-park revamps will be seen at six primaries – Buckstone, Carrick Knowe, Castleview, Granton, Lorne, and Sighthill.

Remaining schools will receive council support to help unlock funding for their own redevelopments – the case for which can be significantly improved by offering them out to community use. Lindsay Law, the parents’ education representative to Edinburgh Council, said some could argue unlocked gates could lead to increased anti-social behaviour – but she believes a well-used public facility would be ­protected by the community.

“If kids are keen to damage things they can climb over the fence and do that, so I believe making it a local asset will encourage people to use it more and take more care of it. That can only be a positive thing for communities.

“By opening things up the community will band together, police it and call out antisocial behaviour.”

Marguerite Hunter Blair, chief executive of Play Scotland, which promotes play for all children, applauded the city’s vision.

But she warned schools delivered through public-private partnership schemes could exempt themselves from the plans. She said: “This is a very smart objective to have in stricken times.

“If you want more play facilities and already have some on your doorstep, why build new ones? Just make the ones you have more accessible for all.”