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ParkPlay Brings Free Family-Friendly Activity to County Durham

by | Jun 15, 2022 | News

What is ParkPlay?

ParkPlay started in London, using play as a way of getting people to be more active outside the home during Covid-19 restrictions. It is similar to ParkRun – a free, weekly event open to all ages, held in a local park. However, instead of a 5km run, the focus is on play, with structured activity led by a Play Leader. Initiatives such as ParkPlay link with County Durham Sport’s strategic priorities, including: creating positive experiences and supporting physical literacy for children and young people; co-producing initiatives with local communities; and creating environments where being active is an easy and accessible choice.

Since ParkPlay was advertised to Active Partnerships in February 2021, County Durham Sport has played a facilitating role in connecting local leaders and organisations to deliver ParkPlay locally. With support from Shildon Town Council, County Durham Sport drove the set-up of the first ParkPlay site outside London, in Hackworth Park. Shildon and Hackworth Park have also been at the heart of the Active Shildon pilot which takes a whole-systems approach to helping people in Shildon build more activity into their daily life.

The Role of the Play Leader

The structure of ParkPlay relies on a local person acting as Play Leader. This person doesn’t need to be a PE teacher or coach, but they do need to have strong connections within the local community, with an ability to engage local people. The need to engage the local community was a key learning from ParkLife, a previous initiative in Shildon. Evaluation of ParkLife by Durham County Council found that momentum and participation are difficult to maintain without strong community-based leadership and community connections. ParkPlay seeks to build on this learning to re-ignite the park-based activities in a sustainable way.

Ben Trotter has been running ParkPlay Shildon since July 2021 and has since been appointed North East Co-ordinator for the organisation. There are now between 25 and 35 regular attendees at this ParkPlay. There are numerous regulars as well as new attenders. Ben says that while the scheme is also promoted in schools, this steadily increasing engagement has been mostly due to social media communication. Having a Play Leader with local knowledge also helps to attract participants. Ben is well known in Shildon as captain of the football team, and this connection has helped when he’s been promoting ParkPlay. Local Play Leaders have access to local ‘micronetworks’ and can be champions for the scheme. For this reason, the current Play Leader for Easington, who is from Peterlee, will move to the Peterlee ParkPlay when it begins.

ParkPlay at School

Another opportunity arose with the Opening School Facilities Fund, which County Durham Sport administered locally on behalf of Sport England. The scheme was designed to fund the opening of school facilities outside school hours so that communities could use sports halls, playing fields, etc, in a covid-secure way. For instance, local people could use electronic entry systems on gated football fields to avoid the need for a member of staff to be present to open and secure the site. County Durham Sport recommended ParkPlay to local schools as a potential use of the funding (to fund the Play Leader role for an initial year) – to help children and their families get active outside of school hours.

This led to ParkPlay activities being set up at Easington Colliery and Chilton Academy. Using schools as ParkPlay sites has also provided the opportunity to advertise to families through the schools, encouraging parents and grandparents involved. A key element of participation is that parents and carers must stay with younger children, and are encouraged to join in with activities (though this isn’t compulsory). Ben notes that because of this, participation is intergenerational, with whole families joining in.

ParkPlay Continues to Grow

There are now five established sites in County Durham (Shildon, Crook, Easington Colliery, Chilton Academy, Chopwell Woods, with two more in the pipeline (Esh Winning, Peterlee) and interest from Spennymoor and Bishop Auckland. County Durham Sport continue to connect ParkPlay representatives with local organisations and enthusiastic local people, to grow the network of ParkPlay advocates and leaders.

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Article by Clare Danek (Insight and Engagement Officer, County Durham Sport)