On Sunday 25th March, Naomi led a group of residents in arranging a street closure for the day in order to allow children the freedom to play out, and residents to get to know each other.
As advocates of community-led change, APEC are big supporters of direct action when it comes to engaging communities. Naomi has recently been putting principles into action by developing some projects in her own local community, including Bournville’s first ‘Playing Out’ session, having been inspired by Bristol-based Playing Out CIC.
Supported by an enthusiastic team of 23 volunteers, at 11am the signs went up, and Naomi’s street, Franklin Road in Bournville, was closed to cars for 5 hours.
‘In the preceding days, I was continually checking the weather forecast, knowing that this could make or break the chances of people coming out to experience a traffic-free street, as I was concerned that an empty street could put people off the idea altogether’.
Fortunately, the first day of Spring aptly turned out to be the warmest and sunniest day of 2018 so far, and around 70 residents of all ages came out to experience something quite remarkable; deckchairs, picnic blankets, bunting and chalked hopscotch appearing on the tarmac shortly after the closure signs went up, as volunteers in hi-viz redirected cars away from the street. Two of the longest-standing residents of the street set up a table serving teas, coffees and cake donations half way down the street, and an array of equipment appeared; some provided by the City’s Active Streets team.
At first, it was just the young children and their parents emerging from houses to take advantage of riding their bikes, and playing in the middle of the road, but gradually older children and teenagers joined in too, along with older residents. Impromptu games of football, tennis, and French cricket were organised and played, whilst others just soaked up the atmosphere. Children ran in and out of houses, friendships were formed and residents from surrounding streets couldn’t resist joining in, and asking how they could do this too.
‘A massive thank you and well done to everyone! We all had a fantastic time getting to know new neighbours and having a proper catch up with others. Looking forward to the next one’ was typical of the messages that soon populated the event’s inbox on the evening of the closure, and on the day, the recurring question seemed to be ‘When can we do this again?’.
The team of volunteers has grown, and whilst Naomi and Franklin Road are planning their next event, Naomi and her co-organiser, Laura, will soon be mentoring other future organisers on surrounding streets who have since contacted Naomi and her neighbours. The exhilaration she experienced from the event’s success has spurred her on to take the concept further:
‘Letting children know that this street is theirs, and giving them the freedom to play out was what instigated this, but as residents of all ages have experienced new friendships formed through volunteering and on the day, we realise that there’s a much bigger community cohesion aspect to this that we are hoping to harness and spread to the wider area’.
Thank you to Nick Robinson for generously photographing the event.