This was a post that I was planning to write for some time, and is one that is now all the more poignant with events in London, which have unfortunately escalated since last night’s post.
In the early 1990s – around the time I was moving from primary school to secondary school, us kids had open access to the school playgrounds during out of hours times. Those playgrounds were very well used. There were no adults around – just us – playing football, rollerblading or just hanging around but not hurting or harming anyone. On a good night you would get over 50 people there. During the long hot summer of 1990, parents got together to run playschemes which were little more than parents keeping an eye on all of us. No sign-in or sign-out lists. People just turned up.
In the grounds of one of the colleges there, we also used to play football on their playing fields, walking through the orchards to get there. Other residents would walk their dogs in the grounds. It was a ‘live and let live’ environment.
Fast forward to today and the two colleges have put up big metal gates with signs saying that the land is private and that trespassing on land is a criminal offence. The school playgrounds has signs saying likewise, invoking an Education Act just to re-enforce the point.
At what point did we as a community decide to fence of our playgrounds from our children? Don’t they belong to them? Isn’t this a massive false economy – especially with problems of childhood obesity? Isn’t it better for our children to be out and about using those facilities that we as taxpayers have paid for?
This article asks how we got from where we were with our school playgrounds to where we are now, and what if anything we can do to re-open our playgrounds for our communities. There is no ‘magic wand’ solution – what may work in rural England may not be the same for inner city London for example. What are the institutional, legal and cultural barriers that are stopping us from opening up our playgrounds and playing fields?
This article doesn’t seek to highlight this as a cause for the rioting that we’ve seen today. It’s heartbreaking to see the human impact that this is having on local communities. My own take is that the London Assembly needs to lead a far-reaching inquiry into the underlying causes of what has happened in London over the past few days. No doubt the Home Affairs Select Committee will want to look into the policing aspects. Trying to understand the causes of what happened does not at all try to excuse the violence and looting. There is no excuse for burning people out of their homes and livelihoods.
As someone on Twitter tweeted: “Happy communities don’t riot”