Play Strategy

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:46 pm on 15th March 2006.

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Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 4:46 pm, 15th March 2006

I thank Ken Macintosh for bringing the debate to the Parliament. The importance of play has always been central in educational thinking, particularly in the early years and in primary. Sadly, it is all too easy for opportunities for play to be designed out of school buildings, school grounds and the local community. In the light of recent developments, the debate is timely, as it gives us an opportunity to highlight the fundamental necessity of incorporating opportunities to play in the curriculum, the design of schools and the way in which we plan space in communities.

The research to which Adam Ingram referred suggests that we do not provide fully for the basic needs of most young people in Scotland. Only recently have Scotland's councils started to audit their green spaces; so far, only just over half have started their audits and few have completed them. It is clear that far too many public-private partnership projects result in a diminution of important informal community green spaces in which children can simply run around between home and school. We need to turn round the post-industrial legacy of wasted spaces that blight too many of our communities. There should be no such thing as a brownfield site: all land should be used permanently in the service of the community in one way or another.

We must ensure that quality green, informal and wild spaces are key features of all new developments, not just residential and business developments. The Executive must give a strong message that we want not only quantity but quality, functionality, accessibility and spaces that meet the needs of the whole community, with, of course, a particular emphasis on children's play. Local councils should pay close attention to the report from Greenspace Scotland and the Project for Public Spaces entitled "Reconnecting People and Place", which was produced slightly more than a year ago, particularly the conclusion that good management is essential to the success of a play space and green space policy.

Eleanor Scott referred eloquently to what children can miss out on and argued that we should develop a children's play policy. There is no better way of doing that than what happened two years ago in Dumbiedykes, just round the corner from the Parliament, when children from the area produced an eco-city report with the help of, among others, the Scottish Youth Parliament and Gaia Planning. They wanted managed play areas that are overlooked; more places for teenagers; better lighting; and the conversion of brownfield sites. Those are not unrealistic demands.

There is no lack of expertise in making quality play space for young people. In December, at a conference in Edinburgh entitled "Making Space: Architecture and Design for Young Children", which was chaired by Kirsty Wark, we heard of the enormous wealth of expertise throughout Europe in designing for play, on which we can draw. The report from Rebecca Hodgson and Graham Leicester entitled "Designing schools for the future: a practical guide" provides in a condensed form an excellent guide for school design that recognises the importance, to which several members have referred, of having a mix of work and play in schools.

In 2000—which is a while ago, admittedly—Capability Scotland conducted research that found that disabled children in Scotland have fewer than half the opportunities that non-disabled pupils have for structured and unstructured play. That is an important point. If—as I think and hope we will learn—the Executive is going to set up a group to consider this problem, I urge it to make that matter a central part of its considerations. A play policy must strive to address such an imbalance.

Members have talked about what play does. It leads to cultural, artistic, physical, mental, emotional, social, creative and intellectual development; it develops resilience, self-confidence, motor skills and an ability to address risks; it helps people to cope with trauma; and it develops entrepreneurial skills and—perhaps above all—spontaneity. It leads to an ability to develop ideas, to explore and to solve problems and it leads to courage and imagination. If play space is not designed into our schools and communities, we will deprive our children of an essential part of their development.