Child rides scooter

At Living Streets, we believe liveable, walkable neighbourhoods are critical to bringing communities together and making our neighbourhoods even better places to live.  In this blog we hear from Alison Stenning who is a coordinator of our Living Streets Local Group in North Tyneside and an academic geographer whose research focuses on play streets and everyday relationships.  

Alison Stenning

The thriving play streets movement in North Tyneside was one of the reasons we knew there was an appetite for local Living Streets campaigning in the borough. PlayMeetStreet North Tyneside was founded in 2017 and since then nearly 70 streets across North Tyneside have closed for play.  

 The desire of local residents to reclaim their streets for playing and meeting, displacing cars for a few hours a month, reflects a recognition that our streets can be something more.  

The borough has a long history of play streets, creating dozens in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. As North Tyneside Living Streets Group, we’ve supported a residents’ campaign to stop illegal through traffic on their historic lane behind the seafront in Cullercoats and bring their historic play street back to life. We loved the fact that over 100 streets in North Tyneside were closed to traffic -but open for fun- over the Jubilee bank holiday.  

Boy playing with a hula hoop
children walk to play

Our Local Group’s emergence in summer 2020 was shaped by the temporary road reallocation measures introduced by North Tyneside Council at the height of the pandemic, particularly the closure of Park View, one of the borough’s liveliest high streets.  

On Park View, what emerged was a family-friendly space where children and adults, of all ages, could hang out safely, shopping in the cafes and independent stores, and meeting friends and family. We often saw kids on cycles, scooters and skateboards, enjoying the car-free space and entertaining themselves safely and joyfully while their parents shopped, spending money in local business that had been hit hard by the first lockdown. 

These visions of road space being reallocated to children, families and the wider community who wanted to walk, wheel and cycle safely have been at the heart of our foundation and our campaigning from 2020 onwards.  

We’ve actively supported the council’s developing school streets programme. When the first School Streets trial in North Tyneside launched in 2021, the staff and families at Denbigh Community School set up a Park and Stride using a local supermarket car park.  

The school is enrolled in the Living Streets WOW Walk to School Challenge and we hope that the Park and Stride will make the School Street more effective, as well as helping the children earn their WOW rewards for walking each day.  

North Tyneside now has six school streets in place, and we’re working to support the council in creating more.  

It’s in the context of all this work around supporting and campaigning for ‘living streets’ for children and families that we decided to organise our very first ‘Kidical Mass’ ride on Sunday 15th May. 

Mother walks with child holding ballon
Group of people riding bicycles

 

© Simon Veit Wilson A tandem with a trailer leads the way through Whitley Bay

We were blown away by the interest and enthusiasm shown, with more than 270 riders of all ages and abilities, from tiny children in trailers to grandparents on e-bikes, and everyone in between, joining the ride. This was one of the largest rides of 14 organised across the UK the same weekend; real evidence of the appetite for change here. 

These were families and friends brought together in support of child-friendly walking and cycling infrastructures, all wanting to ensure that children and families are able to choose to cycle – to school, to shops, cafes and bars, to work, and to see each other – and to do so safely. We hope the council, mayor, and councillors are inspired by what took place. It was great to see that several local councillors joined us on the ride, including Cllr Matt Wilson who championed the ride as demonstrating to young people that their voices count when he wrote about coming to our event on his blog.  

“there was an overwhelming sense of calmness in the chaos of riding with 170 other people. Calm, because I knew my 6-year-old was on a safe route and I no longer had to spend energy on thinking about where the next road to cross or dangerous section of our ride was. Instead, we could all just relax and enjoy the ride.”

Aidan, who was riding with his daughter

There was a moment of particular euphoria  as we all celebrated the announcement that Active Travel England will be funding North Tyneside Council’s Sustainable Seafront Programme to the tune of £3.5 million.  This is a real step forward in creating a fairer, greener seafront that will give everyone in North Tyneside the chance to see that things can be different. It is our hope that it will lead to a borough-wide high-quality walking and cycling network, quieter neighbourhoods, and people friendly town centres, 

While Kidical Mass events are ostensibly about cycling, we believe they are really about how children and their families need to be thought about as we refigure our streets as places with liveable, playable space that allows families to connect with one another and makes our communities stronger. 

 

Kidical Mass Bike Ride

© Simon Veit Wilson All 270 riders at Cullercoats

Take action like Alison in your own community and find your Local Living Streets Group