Imaginatively utilised space is not often on the list of
requirements for the socially deprived child – but it ought to
Last week, John Prescott was accused by the right wing press of
“nationalising” private homes when he unveiled plans to give
councils the power to lease out empty houses compulsorily in the
South East. Over 70,000 houses have been empty for more than six
months. In an area where too many families continue to be holed up
in bed and breakfast hotels, and any number of properties are left
to rot, why not recreate council housing under another name?
In all the fuss about the socialist wolf allegedly reappearing in
the New Labour sheep pen, another Prescott proposal received far
less publicity. It announced the creation of a new body, the Land
Restoration Trust, which will turn nearly 4,000 acres of derelict
land in towns and cities into open spaces.
It’s an admirable scheme so long as consultation also includes the
young voices that too often go unheard. “Grounds for Celebration,”
a study published last month, conducted by school grounds charity
Learning Through Landscapes (LTL), demonstrates how improving the
quality of a school’s external environment – traditionally just a
tarmac “space” – has a beneficial influence on children. The survey
examines over 100 schools which, in the past six years, have
redeveloped their playing space. Over half report a decrease in
bullying, a third have seen vandalism reduced and all report a
general improvement in behaviour and social interaction among
In addition, nine out of 10 children said they had more fun in the
school grounds and three-quarters of the schools reported an
increase in the level of community and parental involvement.
Too often in the past, we’ve seen architect-imposed recreational
areas and parks and the landscaped heart of housing developments
turn literally into a waste of space – graffiti-embellished no-go
areas which mean many children are kept permanently indoors.
LTL has been involved in a number of studies which indicate that if
young people are genuinely included in the process of development
(and the UK now has any number of community artists who thrive on
collaboration to make the most of space); if their ideas are taken
seriously and their skills incorporated, then not only is their
enjoyment channelled away from antisocial behaviour – the project
is also much more likely to have a long and healthy life, to the
benefit of all.