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£5000 award could see Inverness ‘play streets’ project grow and expand

By Philip Murray

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The bottom of Charles Street was closed during last year's pilot event. Picture: James Mackenzie
The bottom of Charles Street was closed during last year's pilot event. Picture: James Mackenzie

An “overwhelmingly” positive pilot experiment that saw an Inverness street closed temporarily to let children play safely was such a success that organisers are hoping to run a year’s worth of once-a-month repeats - and hope it could roll out to other Highland communities.

Play Streets is a concept being spearheaded by the Velocity Café and Bicycle Workshop, and Crown Connects, and which sees a residential street closed for a short time to provide a safe place for children to play outside their homes.

The first such event, which was held as a test last year, saw the city’s Charles Street closed to traffic for two hours one Sunday to enable children to play safely without the concern of cars.

Ruben Conner. Picture: James Mackenzie
Ruben Conner. Picture: James Mackenzie

Organisers say that event, which brought children and families together, received such positive feedback that canvassing of the community about possible monthly repeats sparked absolutely no objections.

And they have now secured £5000 in funding to work alongside the University of Strathclyde over the next year to assess the possible benefits of Play Streets on children, their physical and mental health, and the community.

Emily Williams, who is the Inverness Bicycle Mayor and one of the people leading the initiative, said the doubling of traffic on UK roads in the past few decades, coupled with larger cars, meant streets were not the same safe place for children to play that older generations remember from their own childhoods.

Sandy Lyall, Emily Williams, Velocity CEO, Rebecca Robertson, Crown Connect Trustee and Sara Ramsey. Picture: James Mackenzie
Sandy Lyall, Emily Williams, Velocity CEO, Rebecca Robertson, Crown Connect Trustee and Sara Ramsey. Picture: James Mackenzie

She said Play Streets hopes to offset some of that by ensuring children can still experience safe play outside their homes, adding that there is strong evidence that even occasional play in their community is better for children’s mental and physical health.

She said the community had really got behind last year’s event, citing the example of one adult who had brought a yo-yo down to teach the children some tricks.

“The one last year was so joyous and we’re looking to build on that,” she added.

Applications are now being made to try to hold more two-hour closures in Charles Street once a month over the coming year.

And Emily hopes the findings from that will then enable the project to expand into other Highland communities that wish to embrace it - and even further afield

Welcoming the funding announcement Dr Deirdre Harrington, lead of Strathclyde’s Active Mobility Hub, said: “I am pleased to accept this award on behalf of our collective. This project idea was truly community initiated and driven. I have already learned a lot from our partners in Inverness who are committed to gathering evidence on Play Streets.

“Their knowledge of Play Streets is a valuable resource for this project, and we hope to be a good example of academic research supporting local community-driven action in Scotland.”

The money for the project was awarded from the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Williamson Trust through their Healthy Planet, Healthy People grant awards.

Originally only ten awards were planned, however the strength of the applications was such that a further two projects will now be supported in communities from Orkney in the nort to Campeltown, Dumfries and Galloway in the south.

Alfie, Gordon and Charlie Robertson. Picture: James Mackenzie
Alfie, Gordon and Charlie Robertson. Picture: James Mackenzie

Professor David E Salt FRSE, chair of the Williamson Trust said: “I speak for all the trustees when I say we were incredibly excited to see the very strong response we got from communities across Scotland.

“From food waste, the right to food and cooperative local growing, to rebuilding biodiversity and land rights, community street play, urban forests, and climate conversations as street theatre. The Trust hopes this seed funding will deliver real change and lead to larger impacts going into the future. We are very excited to be working with these communities across Scotland to help them make a new and better future.”

RSE Vice President, Research, Professor Anne Anderson OBE FRSE said: “This is the first time that the RSE has supported this type of research, as the Society broadens its range of research awards, and I feel that it is vital that we do so.

“The health of the individual and the health of the environment are inextricably linked, and it is my hope that these awards will now provide a boost to these exciting research groups which will lead to improvements in both. I very much look forward to following their progress and achievements over the next 12 months.

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