I was lucky enough to get to spend a morning with children at Applefields School, working with them on a project that had interested them for a while – what makes good family-friendly places? It’s one of those phrases that often gets used without thought, so we spent the time working out what it meant – what sort of things do children want to do and what sort of places make these things easier to do? The children worked in pairs to develop their own lists, and we then talked through these and I summarised the issues on further Post-Its.
Taking these as the basis, what we get as a simple set of briefing notes for public space at Castle Gateway is:-
- Space should be contained, enclosed, so parents can be confident that children won’t disappear or get lost. Relaxed parents help children be relaxed too. Focused play areas should have seating for parents.
- Places should provide activities for all ages of children so families don’t have one excited child and a collection of bored ones. They should also be interesting for parents – preferably in a shared way (parents and kids engaged in the same stuff) but at the very least should provide WiFi.
- Places should as far as possible be free to use, and should provide for families who want to avoid big spending – picnic tables to allow people to bring food and drink (and bins for afterwards). Cafes and shops and other places to spend are good but shouldn’t be compulsory, and should serve food with children in mind (simple “build up your own lunch” stuff would be useful). Opportunities to give as well as take – food for the less fortunate. An ice-cream van for that treat “if you’re good” is okay though!
- Environment matters so places should be lively and bright, the temperature should be okay (shade in summer / shelter in winter) and all spaces should be accessible – and smoke-free.
- Activities should be engaging and “hands-on”; there should be trails and surprises (nature, treasure, ghosts!). Lessons should be learned from good museums and galleries (Eureka etc) and histories should be told of people as well as places. There should be no signs saying “No”!