Thursday, 26 July 2007

The role of street reps 'Tell your neighbours the truth as you know it!' - a jotted note for a 'job advert' for street reps, contrived during a workshop exercise I ran with a group yesterday. This was in an area of intense and complex regeneration, so perhaps it was not surprising how often the notion of truth and fact came up. In this locality, street reps see themselves almost entirely as conduits of information, flowing in both directions, between residents and agencies. Notions like 'positive gossip' and 'squashing rumours' highlighted the importance to them of information quality. Unfortunately, the nature of the renewal issues - housing allocation, demolitions, relocation, developers' timescales, planning regulations etc - means that hard facts are hard to come by. The role therefore risks becoming a thankless one and even confrontational, with local people getting worked up about change especially when they think their homes are threatened, and the street rep becoming the lightning conductor for their disquiet. You might therefore think there'd be something to be said for the reps getting involved in positive initiatives like border planting or barbecues or street parties or similar. The fact that they felt this to be beyond their remit suggests to me that the pool of people to whom this role will appeal is likely to be quite small - limited to the kind of person who likes to be the first to know what's going on, ready to commit time and energy to finding out and sharing the information with others, comfortable with going to meetings and committees, and willing to put up with some irritating and irritated neighbours. And just because we all know people who fit that description, it doesn't mean there are ever likely to be enough of them. So perhaps it's worth trying to broaden perceptions of the role a little. Meanwhile, I'm looking at how the role of street rep has evolved elsewhere, and hopefully there will be a chance to bring some of the variety together to see what's common and what's transferrable.
Playing out Adults were three times more likely to play out when they were young, than children are today. New figures released by Play England haven't made a big noise (wrong time of year, and I fear the world is tiring slightly of this thread), but they deserve reflection: 71 per cent of adults played outside in the street or area close to their homes every day when they were children, compared to only 21 per cent of children today. It reminds me of a favourite quotation from She was aye workin, which documents women's experiences in early 20th-century tenements in Glasgow and Edinburgh: You were never in anyway. When you say you lived in a room-and-kitchen, your mum and dad lived in a room-and-kitchen, but you played out in the street, summer and winter, you didn't come in till bedtime. And my own memories, if I may, are of cricket and football in the street and late kickabouts at the rec' until we couldn't see the ball any more or hunger drove us home. Before that it was 'chicken steps,' 'pom-pom one-two-three' and other street games. Lauren Lacey's lit review for NCB notes: There has been a decrease over the past thirty years in children’s access to the streets and outdoor areas near their homes. Increasingly their independent mobility is restricted by traffic and fear, which in turn causes them to spend much of their time indoors or at organised activities. The combination of an increase in vehicles on the roads, increased parental anxiety, and restrictions on children’s mobility in the form of child curfews and anti-social behaviour orders has reduced children’s outdoor play opportunities. The qualitative research reported included focus groups with young people aged between eight and 18. From which comes this scary piece of news: Ten of the participants said that they never played outside on the streets and areas near their home. That's ten out of 64 participants. And in the light of my recent note about the importance of unstructured time, this point is noteworthy: In all the groups, children and young people said that having the freedom to choose what to do, and where to spend time, particularly in contrast to time spent in school, was very important. Even the youngest children talked about having this freedom and time away from parents and adult supervision. The quantitative research points to a complex range of interconnected factors such as intolerant adults, traffic, lack of facilities etc. Two things occur to me. First, I see no mention of the increasingly stifling competitive educational context in which many children are expected to complete ridiculous amounts of homework in order to try to fulfil their parents' ambitions for them, or die, emotionally, in the attempt. That's a social problem if ever I saw one. Secondly, it's reassuring to note that in drawing attention to the combined effects of the decline in child-friendly public space, the increase in traffic, and the demonisation of children and young people, Play England don't...

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