Let’s play outside!

Increased opportunity for outdoor play needs to be a priority in practice, not just in principle, argues Cllr Melanie Main.

If there is one thing about which there is near universal consensus it is that children should be outside playing more often.

That is why I have consistently pressed on the need to improve school playgrounds in recent years, so that they are a little less concrete-and-tar deserts and a little more inviting to play in. Parent bodies at schools have done, and are doing, exciting things on playground investment: planning, fundraising for and delivering the projects.

Mel 2012 smilingIt is why Forest Schools have become more the norm within the primary school curriculum and also why schemes like the John Muir Award and Duke of Edinburgh Scheme have never been so popular among secondary school children.

Of course, the test comes when there are choices to be made. Over the last year, Edinburgh Playing Out has made a series of modest recommendations about reclaiming some street space for brief periods for play.  While most people of good sense support such recommendations, for a small number of residents it appears to trigger Donald Trump-levels of frothing at the mouth should it be suggested that streets are for anything other than driving a car through as quickly as possible.

And it boils down to specific choices as well. Take Tynecastle Nusery, for example. Located in Macleod Street, in the shadow of Hearts’ stadium, it has long been the jewel in the crown of city nursery provision with a series of five-star ratings from inspectors.

Chief among the attributes of Tynecastle Nursery, cherished by local parents, has been the outdoor play space and the importance which is given to outdoor play within the nursery day.

Now, as part of the redevelopment of the old stand at Hearts’ stadium, the current nursery is to go, with a new purpose-built nursery to be built within the new and much larger stand which should be in place for the start of season 2017-18.

There is much to welcomed about Hearts’ ambitions and, under the ownership of Ann Budge, there appears to be a genuine appetite to build on the club as a community institution, with firmer links to local schools, Gorgie City Farm and local businesses.

However, the plans, at this stage, show reduced space for outdoor play at the new Tynecastle Nursery. One of Scotland’s most successful football clubs should be able to spot an own-goal a mile-off and to reduce outdoor play space at a nursery renowned for outdoor play space would rank as a spectacular own goal.

Fortunately, a detailed planning application has still to be submitted. So there is time to put that right. In this era of increased importance attached to outdoor play, both Hearts and the city council need to ensure that children have that increased space to play.

It might even be an investment: from the toddlers of today to the John Robertsons of tomorrow.