Dear Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE, MP
This is an open letter from trustees of the charity London Play, asking that you issue guidance urgently to enable summer playscheme providers to plan to offer a modified play service during the summer school holidays.
The government’s announcement today on schools makes it clear that most children are unlikely to return to school before September. Clarifying arrangements and support for summer play providers must now be the immediate priority for the government, to ensure that children do not suffer further still. London Play has already called on the government to make children’s wellbeing a priority as it announces the next steps out of lockdown (as per the attached statement). We are now urging you to act quickly and decisively on the issue of summer provision.
There are now less than six weeks until the summer holidays begin. At this time of year adventure playgrounds and summer playscheme providers should be gearing up to provide children with a summer to remember. They should be recruiting and training staff; ordering supplies; timetabling activities; maintaining buildings and play structures; and drawing up rotas. They should be, but they are not. And they are not, because they are in the dark.
Golf clubs are open. Horse racing is back. People can have a barbecue in their garden with others from outside their household. There are suggestions that the government is ready to let pub beer gardens in England reopen from 22nd June. A few children are now permitted to share a classroom with up to 14 others; but what of their mental and physical wellbeing?
Children have been the forgotten victims of this pandemic. They have been locked up for months on end, deprived of school and any semblance of normal life with their friends. Too many are in households experiencing additional hardships as a result of the measures taken to contain the virus’ spread. They have suffered isolation, estrangement from loved grandparents and other family members, and also potentially bereavement. The impacts on their mental, social and physical wellbeing continue to be significant.
To mitigate against this, they need to play and socialise with their friends: as normally as possible, as soon as possible. Play is how children make sense of the world and their relationships with others. There is ample evidence that children who have regular opportunities to play freely outdoors benefit from improved mental health and psychological and emotional wellbeing. Through play children learn to be resilient; how to deal with change and develop a state of mind which can cope with the unexpected. They need all these qualities now, more than ever, as they emerge from isolation into a radically altered, post lockdown world.
Meanwhile, parents and carers are also wondering what sort of summer they and their children will have. By July, many will have been struggling to provide wrap-around home education and childcare for four months, often while continuing to work themselves. They are at breaking point and need to see a light at the end of the tunnel – or at least to be able to plan ahead with some confidence. Clarity over summer holiday provision is for them, also crucial.
We also know that play providers are ready and willing to adapt their practice to meet the challenges demanded by the response to this pandemic. Scores of skilled, creative and committed play workers are eager to return to work and open their doors to children on Monday 20th July, but they need a government directive now.
Childhood summers are few and precious. It is critical that the summer of 2020 offers our children some escape and relief from the traumatic events of recent months and leaves them better prepared to restart school in September. Children, parents and play workers cannot wait any longer for the government to act. Please, prioritise children’s needs and issue guidance for summer play providers now.
Melian Mansfield MBE
Chair of London Play
For and on behalf of London Play trustees:
Barry Walden (vice chair)