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Places for play

Evaluating our Children's Play programme
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Children and young people need places where they can develop. This might be through play, socialising or learning new skills. That’s why we fund projects to develop spaces specifically for their needs.

Through our research, we’ve seen how we can best develop places for children to play. Some of our key learning points include:

  • involving users in decision-making can be important for success
  • recognising that successful projects can have benefits on children and young people’s health
  • realising that new places can help bring a community together more widely.

Children's Play

Through our Children’s Play programme, we’ve seen how new play spaces have helped children. We’ve also learnt how families and communities can benefit too. Our Children’s Play evaluation reinforces existing evidence about the benefits of quality play for children.


Freedom was a key theme for the Children’s Play programme. It focused on creating, improving and developing free local play spaces in England:

Free play diagram

By evaluating the programme we have identified how places to play can help children and families.

Key successes

Overall, we've seen that new play spaces can improve children’s:

  • levels of physical activity
  • self-confidence
  • independence
  • creative skills.

The benefits are greatest for children who attend regularly and those who have additional needs.


Shaping play provision in specific and often new ways can be a key approach. It allows projects to concentrate on meeting need, rather than expanding existing services.

For our programme, the emphasis on play itself was also important: it helped raise awareness of children’s play. This paved the way for a period of unprecedented Government investment in the play sector.


Our evaluation highlights how developing new places to play can improve access to play facilities by:

  • expanding open access
  • addressing local pockets of play deprivation
  • increasing children’s access to play - especially for children with disabilities and for those in rural or deprived areas.

Local participation to help meet need

Working with local communities helped the Children's Play programme to meet local needs by:

  • engaging children and families in decisions about play spaces
  • facilitating good local participation to help sustain projects’ success
  • bringing communities from different localities and social backgrounds together
  • working closely with community groups
  • consulting with children and families to meet beneficiary needs and preferences. Consultation also helped widen access to provisions.

Free play

Our evaluation has also highlighted the benefits of free play in:

  • growing children’s independence and self confidence through less-structured play
  • providing the freedom to take risks without the threat of serious harm through more challenging activities such as den-building, fire-play and climbing trees.

Key challenges

All programmes can face difficulties. Acknowledging them is an important step in addressing them effectively next time. Some key challenges for Children's Play projects were:

  • working closely with community groups sometimes uncovers sensitive issues
  • weaker levels of local participation can sometimes delay progress
  • concerns can arise about anti-social behaviour and risky play in general
  • more work could be done to improve engagement with children with disabilities and traveller communities.

More about the research

The Children’s Play programme committed £123 million between 2006 and 2012 to developing spaces for children. We commissioned Ecorys to assess how effective the programme has been at:

  • widening access to good-quality and challenging play opportunities
  • removing barriers to play
  • involving local communities,
  • giving children greater choice.

The evaluation ran from 2008 to 2011. Full details of the Children’s Play evaluation are available under Publications below.


Children's Play evaluation report
Children's Play themes and case studies
Children's Play interim report