In recent years, there has been an increasing recognition of the importance of play in children's live and the responsibility of government and other public bodies in creating opportunities and spaces for children to play.

As early as 2006, funding from the Big Lottery Fund's Children's Play Initiative enable 356 unitary and district local authorities to develop local play strategies as a basis for accessing further funds designed to improve the play opportunities available to children and young people.

This was followed, in 2008, by the launch of the first national Play Strategy by the previous Labour government, which pledged £235 million of capital investment to create or refurbish play areas and to build an addittional 30 staffed adventure playgrounds.

The coalition government took office in May 2010. One of the main priorities of the incoming government has been to reduce the national budget deficit, and consequently the capital grants for play have been identified as one of many areas that need to make savings. This should not be interpreted as a lack of interest in play from the government, but a way of addressing what they have described as 'unrealistic spending committments' on play.

In fact, the government continues to show considerable support for play. In June 2010, in a speech to launch the Childhood and Families Taskforce, Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, identified family-friendly public space as one of five priorities for the taskforce:

'Every parent understands the importance of a secure environment for their children. Spaces where they can play, where they can feel completely free, where they can safely push their boundaries, learning and experimenting. Places where different generations can meet, binding the community together. We mustn't accept our playing fields being concreted over and our parks always being tucked out of public view.'

Similarly, in 2009 David Cameron remarked: 'Today just one in five children regularly play outside in their neighbourhood. The rest are denied the chance to get out of the house and have the everyday adventures that - to people of my generation - are what childhood is all about.'

Tim Loughton, the Children's Minister, was also keen to heap praise on adventure playgrounds when he said: [Staffed play provision has a ] 'huge potential to be at the heart of rehabilitating much of the breakdown in our society.

Finally, Michael Gove, Minister for Education, said: 'The government believes that play is an important part of childhood and child development, and also thinks play is good for families and communities more broadly.'

One way in which these aspirations can come about is through the Big Society agenda. Big Society means that a streamlined state helps families and grass-roots community organisations to be actively engaged in developing, securing, providing and maintaining their local play spaces and play services.

The Big Society will see a shift to greater community engagement in local services through increased social action, community empowerment and public service reform.

Play is well placed to deliver the Big Society agenda. For example by:

- Providing opportunities for volunteers

- Encouraging community involvement and active  citizenship

- Enabling voluntary management of local service

While a large part of the Big Society agenda focuses on members of the public volunteering their time and effort to the causes that concern them, localism also means that there will be less bureaucracy from central government thereby giving local government, social enterprises, and private companies greater freedom to deliver services in their local area.

The Engaging Communities in Play programme, of which this website is a part, is another play initiative that came about under a revised contract with the government, drawn up after the general election in May 2010. Engaging Communities in Play aims to give communities in England the inspiration and resources to enable them to develop, manage and sustain the places where children play. Further information is available here.

Back to top

Play Shaper online learning

Use the online learning environment after you have participated in a Play Shaper seminar. You can access learning materials, online discussions and an assessment quiz that accredits your continuing professional development.

Start learning now

Get updates

Sign up for Play Shaper email updates

Sign up