PlayBoard NI, the lead agency for play in Northern Ireland has welcomed the NI Executive’s decision to allow the reopening of Play Parks from 10 July as part of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
Welcoming the reopenings, PlayBoard Chief Executive Jacqueline O’Loughlin said:
“The severe social restrictions associated with lock-down have impacted across all levels of society but have been particularly felt by children and young people who have found their natural energy and desire to play curbed.”
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been far reaching, decimating opportunities for children’s play. Normal play activities that are fundamental to development, learning, health and happiness have been curtailed and restricted to the confines of the home environment and immediate family circle.
Speaking about the impact of lockdown Jacqueline highlighted, “Emerging research conducted by PlayBoard and others is beginning to show the significant impact lockdown restrictions have had on children and young people. The reductions in physical and social play opportunities has had a severe impact leading to lower levels of physical activity, increased levels of anxiety and concern at the long term impact of social isolation on friendships.
“As an organisation, PlayBoard is acutely aware of the negative impact lockdown has had on children and young people’s physical and emotional health and well-being and we welcome the reopening of play parks as a further step back towards normality.”
In anticipation of reopening officers from across the 11 councils have been working with PlayBoard NI to develop guidance for parents to enable facilities to reopen. As a result, a range of measures aimed at minimising the risk of infection have been agreed and parents and children visiting play parks are asked to adhere to the following guidance:
1. Closed Play Parks
If the play park you wish to use has not yet been officially reopened, please do not attempt to use or access the equipment.
2. Secured Equipment
In some cases, pieces of play equipment may have been secured to prevent their use on safety grounds. If an item has been secured to prevent use do not attempt to remove temporary barriers or use the equipment.
3. Social Distancing
When visiting a play park make sure that you follow current government guidance on social distancing, encourage and support your children to do the same and keep a safe distance from others not in your household/social bubble.
4. Busy Play Parks
Given that they are reopening for the first time in three months play parks may be busier than usual. If the play park is busy, consider coming back at a later time and let your child know in advance that this may be a possibility to avoid disappointment.
5. Hand Washing
Wash your hands and your children’s hands before and after visiting the play park. Take hand sanitiser with you and ensure you and your child use it frequently whilst in the play park.
6. Waste Management
Make sure that any disposable tissues, PPE equipment etc. is disposed of in the litter bins provided or, if one is not available take it home for disposal.
7. Be Sensible
If you or anyone in your household are showing any Coronavirus symptoms, stay home and do not visit the play park.
Speaking about the reopening Alan Herron, PlayBoard’s Director of Service Delivery and Development said, “Prior to reopening, councils have undertaken maintenance checks and risk assessments to ensure that the play equipment is safe to use and that all sites have been cleaned in preparation for use.”
With regards to the level of Covid-19 risk in play parks Alan said, “From a risk/benefit perspective, scientific evidence increasingly suggests that the benefits to be gained from children being able to return to some degree of normality in terms of play opportunities far outweighs the risks associated with Covid-19 for the age group.
“Research conducted by the UK Play Safety Forum indicates that the level of Covid-19 risk to children, particularly in outdoor locations such as play parks is relatively low in comparison to other groups in society. Providing play parks do not get excessively busy and that the guidance is adhered to the level of risk should be low.”
Beyond the reopening of play parks, PlayBoard have strongly urged parents to continue to encourage and support their children to play whether it be at a play park, green space, at home or in the wider community.
The guidance is also available here