Sunday 19 September 2021 is Norfolk Car-Free Day – an initiative that started with 2019’s Norwich Car-Free Day before going countywide last year.
For this year’s event the focus is on Play Streets. Play Streets are a brilliantly simple concept: roads are temporarily closed to general motor traffic (often for just a few hours) to create additional safe space for children to play in – giving them a taste of the freedoms that many of us enjoyed in previous generations. It’s not all about the kids though: these events are brilliant at getting adults chatting to each other too, creating community connections that often last long after the road has reverted to normal use. These events over the last few years have involved huge chalk drawings, musical performances, scootering, street badminton, basketball, hula-hooping, yoga…you name it! Oh, and cake. Lots of cake.
During a street play session, residents can still access their properties by car if needed – they just have to go at walking pace behind a steward, to ensure everyone’s safety. These events are entirely resident-led: the closures are applied for by keen residents who live on each street, and can only go ahead if more neighbours support the idea than oppose it.
Since 2020, Norfolk County Council has scrapped the charge to close residential streets for these events, so the only cost now is the time it takes for a few interested neighbours to get together to organise. In Bristol, where the UK’s street play movement started, many roads host Play Streets events on a weekly or fortnightly basis in the warmer months: it would be amazing to see such enthusiasm for the idea in Pockthorpe and the wider Norwich area, too.
It’s worth noting that, though Play Streets are particularly being encouraged for Car-Free Day, if 19 September doesn’t work for your road then that’s not a problem: you can pick any day you like for your Play Street. The push for Play Streets in our area is part of a new UK-wide campaign for a #SummerOfPlay: Covid restrictions have been particularly tough on children, depriving them of much of the free physical play that is so crucial for their mental and physical development. Let’s give a little space back to the kids, to help make their right to play a crucial part of our recovery from Covid.
To apply for a Play Street, chat with some of your neighbours about the idea then head to Norfolk County Council for more information and to start the application process. Please note that some roads – like those on a bus route – may not be deemed eligible for play streets.
Join the Playing Out Norfolk facebook group to follow the street play movement in our area. And head over to the main Playing Out website for loads of useful info and resources to help establish street play on your road.
Car Free Norwich is a local campaign which aims to raise awareness of the issues with private car travel, and to argue for better alternative forms of transport, and ways of arranging our public space. Private car travel remains a stubbornly high source of the UK’s carbon emissions, while also contributing to dangerous levels of air pollution and congestion, and making our streets less safe and pleasant places to spend time on. Reducing unnecessary private car travel would free up valuable road space for people who genuinely need private cars – like many disabled people, contractors, and businesses – which would mean reduced journey times for all. If you have any questions about Car-Free Norwich, or Playing Out Norfolk, email Matt at email@example.com.