Putting the joy back in playtime

Forget the image of little Johnny coming home with scraped knees, a pocket full of bugs and an empty belly after a day occupying himself in the great outdoors.

Forget the image of little Johnny coming home with scraped knees, a pocket full of bugs and an empty belly after a day occupying himself in the great outdoors.

Today a new picture of 21st childhood is emerging with television and computer games a major leisure pastime for youngsters.

Some say the older generation had the best childhoods and enjoyed more freedom but the borough's new play champion Adrian Barnes is keen to reassert outdoorsy pastimes and promote the benefits of play. Liz Coates spoke to him.

His was a childhood world of witches' hats, cheese cutters (also known as Milky Ways) and towering slides - all of which have disappeared from playing fields in a health and safety sweep aimed at playing safe.

And when he was growing up in the 1970s his chums made playgrounds out of the decaying remnants of the Gorleston railway (now the inner relief road) and of the sea defence boulders and groynes that were strictly out of bounds.

Today the Gorleston father of two girls and former Oriel Grammar School pupil has the task of reintroducing parents and children to facilities they may not know about, and most difficult of all performing the delicate balancing act between risk, responsibility and freedom.

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Lottery funding has already paid for new equipment and is funding Mr Barnes appointment in a push to put the joy back into play.

He said: “Play is essential to children's happiness, health and development. Past generations of children spent lots of time outside both supervised and unsupervised enjoying different play experiences like building sandcastles on the beach, swinging in the park, kicking a ball around and making dens.

“This has changed for a number of reasons including legitimate concerns about children's safety as well as the introduction of less active play options such as video games. Although it would seem good that the menu of play opportunities has increased the fact is that children are spending less time in traditional forms of play and therefore losing out on its real benefits to their well being.

“It is important that the play agenda is taken seriously.”

Having spent tens of thousands on new play equipment the council is keen to make sure that people know its there and use it.

Mr Barnes is looking to work with existing organisations, agencies and schools to develop, promote and encourage non-structured play for children aged three to 11. “The primary resources available are the borough's play areas, however it is anticipated that other play opportunities will also be developed,” he said.

Whilst Mr Barnes will be working across the borough, he will be looking particularly at issues and barriers to the accessing of play opportunities for children in south and central Yarmouth, the rural areas and Gorleston.

He is keen to hear why people do and don't use play areas with the focus on getting more people out and about enjoying the healthy, stress-busting benefits of being outdoors.

Council environmental services manager Simon Mutten said: “Around £700,000 of capital investment has been made in borough council play facilities over the last three years. This has enabled major improvements to be made across the borough in line with the aims and objectives of the council's play strategy.

“We do recognise however that in some areas barriers still exist with regard to the accessing of play facilities and making the best use of them. That's why the appointment of a play development worker was integral to the bid we made to the Big Lottery Fund.

Mr Barnes, started work in April and is based at the Marina Centre.

Currently links are being made with potential delivery partners and a play survey is being conducted. Mr Barnes has been speaking to children in school assemblies.

Older children who complete a survey form will receive a marina swim pass as an incentive and so far Mr Barnes has been overwhelmed with the uptake - proving that children have something to say.

“If you are a parent or guardian and your child comes home from school with a play survey please encourage them to complete and return it,” he said. “We are very keen to receive their comments.”

For more information or a copy of the questionnaire contact Adrian Barnes via 01493 851521 or adrianbarnes@gyslt.com.

More information is available at www.playengland.org.uk