This new project, funded by the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, will enable me to assess the feasibility, value and relevance of a developing project of participatory, psychosocial research around the idea of ‘playing out’ (organised sessions of street play for children and families) and everyday relationships (with friends, family, and neighbours), which builds on my recent work on everyday relationships and the psychosocial geographies of austerity and extends existing work on ‘playing out’.
From around 2009, Playing Out CIC has promoted and supported the development of temporary residential street closures for play across the UK, starting in Bristol and expanding to over 400 streets in around 50 different towns and cities. Since 2015, House of Objects, an educational community interest company (CIC), has worked with Play England and Playing Out CIC to support neighbours to close their streets for play on a regular basis in North Tyneside. Ten North Tyneside streets have run one-off or regular ‘playing out’ sessions in the last two years, each attended by 15-25 children of varying ages, and their parents, grandparents and other carers. There have already been some studies of this phenomenon, in geography and beyond, but these have, not surprisingly, focused on play and on changing children’s geographies (e.g. Ferguson and Page 2015; Tranter 2016; Murray and Devecchi 2016). Attention to the wider psychosocial (social and emotional) geographies of street play have received important but incidental attention. It is commonly argued that street play supports increasing social cohesion and stronger communities, and these have become core ideas in the promotion of playing out. This project aims to interrogate this further, paying attention to ideas around security, belonging, trust, identity, attachment, togetherness, and neighbouring through a focus on street play and ‘everyday relationships’ in North Tyneside to ask if and how playing out transforms the psychosocial geographies of the streets involved. This pilot project asks the following key questions:
- How do participants imagine, understand and experience ideas of community and neighbouring in the context of their street play sessions?
- What changes have participants witnessed in the geographies of their streets’ everyday relationships?
- How, if at all, have the effects of street play sessions ‘spilled over’ into the wider everyday life of the streets involved?
This will be a small-scale, qualitative, (auto)ethnographic and participatory project, developed with the existing North Tyneside street play organisers (of which I am one, through PlayMeetStreet North Tyneside), with the following key stages:
- Planning and preliminary meetings with key organisers.
- Focus group with street organisers to develop the notion of everyday relationships and street play. This will enable me to hone the focus to guide interviews and participant observation.
- Visit Playing Out CIC (Bristol) to interview national organisers to set research in wider context.
- I will join at least one street play session in each currently active street (likely to be between 5 and 8), observing and participating in the activities of both children and adults. During these sessions, I will also arrange follow-up, in-depth, qualitative interviews with participants (2 or 3 from each street) to develop responses to the key research questions.
- Write and present report to local and national playing out activists; present preliminary paper to internal seminar.