As Hackney reopens, it’s time to play again – and make our borough’s future child-friendly

Hello again, Hackney – it’s time to play again. That’s our message to the children and young people of our borough this week, as we cautiously see lockdown restrictions ease and Hackney’s playgrounds, parks, squares and games areas welcome everyone back to enjoy a summer of play. 

But while our new campaign and packed programme of summer events and activities will help everyone rediscover their favourite places here and now, I am just as committed to putting young people at the heart of the decisions that affect our borough during the long-term recovery from the pandemic. 

That means bringing children and young people into decision-making, ensuring Hackney is more accessible and empowering them to be physically active, connect with nature, and have the freedom to play in safe, healthy and unpolluted public spaces. It’s vital that the next generation feels connected to the world around them no matter what their needs and abilities might be.

We’ve already put a number of positive measures in place to ensure that the borough is more child friendly, such as the introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, more play space and School Streets. However, we can do even more. The importance of involving children and young people in the early stages of planning and development is now clearer than ever, as the pandemic saw our streets reopen and residents connect with their immediate surroundings in a way that we have not seen for generations. 

That’s why I’m proud we’ve adopted a new Child Friendly Places Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) – which now forms part of the Council’s borough-wide planning rules, as well as serving as a blueprint for Council and external projects. This is a key opportunity to let young people’s voices be heard in the design and planning process, and ensure they are taken seriously by the development industry and decision makers involved.

So what does this mean for young people in the borough? It means that every new development in Hackney must now accommodate our eight child-friendly principles and design guidelines. This goes beyond just designing playspace for children, but means involving children and young people in shaping the physical features of neighbourhoods so that they become more inclusive, playful and welcoming. 

The eight principles are:

  1. Shaping my borough: to ensure children and young people have the power to influence change in Hackney 
  2. Doorstep play: to provide easily accessible and overlooked space for play and social interactions immediately outside the front door
  3. Play on the way: to provide multi-generational opportunities for informal play, things to see and do around the neighbourhood beyond designated parks and playgrounds
  4. Streets for people: to ensure that children, young people, and their families can safely and easily move through Hackney by sustainable modes of transport such as walking, cycling or public transport
  5. Contact with nature: to design places which increase everyday opportunities to access and connect with nature
  6. Destinations for all: to design socially inclusive and accessible public spaces that are welcoming, enjoyable and safe for everyone
  7. Making spaces young people want to be: to ensure that public spaces are designed, planned and managed to consider the varied needs of teenagers and young people
  8. Health and wellbeing: to ensure the design of outdoor environments supports improved physical and mental wellbeing

Adopting the Child Friendly Places SPD is a huge step in ensuring that we are putting the needs and activities of all young people at the heart of future developments. After conducting the largest ever consultation with young people in Hackney, we discovered that while young people find much to love about living in Hackney, they also explained how sometimes they can feel unsafe or unwelcome to play or move through our streets. That is something we are determined to change. 

We’ve already seen the positive impact of involving children and young people in the planning process and learned that older people share many of their concerns. We’ve also learnt that involving young people in the early stages of design can produce award winning schemes, such as Hackney School of Food, the Build Up Project and the landscaping and play space for Kings Crescent Estate. Let’s continue this work. 

I’d like to thank the young people who helped challenge and shape these ideas. Adopting the Child Friendly Places SPD is a significant step towards building a more inclusive society and we hope this will set a precedent for developers, as well as councils and decision makers, and is the first step to making children and young people central to future public policy. 

To view the Child Friendly Places SPD, please visit hackney.gov.uk/child-friendly-spd 

Cllr Caroline Woodley, Cabinet Member for Families, Early Years, Parks and Play