Open letter from Labour councillor Jo Rigby to the deputy leader of Wandsworth council
Dear Cllr Cook,
I’m appealing to your inner child as I ask you to sign up to waiving the costs of opening some of Wandsworth’s residential streets to our children on Car Free Day.
I’m not certain what the actual cost is to open a minor residential, as in almost a year of asking I’ve had the wooliest of answers and it seems I’m given the costs for closing big roads. Experience throughout the country has shown that with some clever placement of cheap cones and the good will of the people, this can be a cheap day out. Lots of councils are doing this. And we should too.
I need your commitment to the concept of Play Streets. This is when we open up the street to children for safe play. Almost half of Wandsworth residents live car- free, and I’m certain that drivers won’t begrudge taking a detour down the next street for one day of the year, or possibly joining in the fun of walking or cycling on Car Free Day. It’s about encouraging change.
You believe that we don’t need to do this because we have ‘an abundance of green space’. We do have parks around us, and we love to take our kids at the weekends when the working week is done but some parents work weekends, or have other responsibilities and cannot do this at all.
Our kids can’t go to parks alone as there are so many cars on the big roads and very few safe places to cross. I measured an entire kilometre of Garratt Lane without any crossing place, not even a basic pedestrian refuge. This isn’t about park life. It’s about giving our kids what we enjoyed, and we were perhaps the last generation to know: the joy of running around the street with our mates.
As our streets have been given over to traffic, many children only experience play when it is commoditised and branded as Flip Out or Go Ape. For others, it just doesn’t exist and they are housebound, device dependent. One in three of our children in Wandsworth leave primary school over-weight or obese. Play is an essential solution to this. But not over-complicated schemes and initiatives that parents are often too busy working to participate in. I’m asking for simple, good old-fashioned street play. For a few hours, of one day, out of the entire year.
Every year I organise our street party. I do it to build our community. I do it to watch the kids make new friends and race up and down on their skateboards and scooters. I will continue to do it long after my kids have grown up. There is no sound more beautiful than that of children playing and laughing. The roar of a car and then the empty silence before the next one isn’t joyful or safe.
Cllr Cook, what would your eight year-old self ask you to do? I’m hoping he’d say, come on, let’s try this thing out, let’s take back the street and race each other. What do you say? Let us kids play!
Earlsfield councillor, Deputy Leader of Wandsworth Labour
Street hopscotch champion, summer of ‘79