Francis Avenue in Southsea is closed for the afternoon to become the city's first 'play street'

SOUNDS of rumbling cars were swapped for the laughter of children and the chatter of families and neighbours as the city's first play street took shape yesterday.

Sunday, 21st July 2019, 9:46 pm
The Billson and Terry children play in the road as Francis Avenue, Portsmouth, becomes a play street. Picture: Chris Moorhouse. (210719-59)

Francis Avenue in Southsea was closed to traffic from 1pm to allow youngsters to play in the road without the danger of passing cars.

City councillors approved the idea after being inspired by scores of children who took to Francis Avenue to play during roadworks in the Easter holidays.

And it was to the joy of mum-of-two Laura Mellor, 42, that it finally took off again, after weeks spent spearheading the scheme for her family and neighbours to enjoy.

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The Billson and Terry children play in the road as Francis Avenue, Portsmouth, becomes a play street. Picture: Chris Moorhouse. (210719-59)

‘It's lovely and there's been a lot of work involved in getting it set up and [councillors] Suzy Horton and Steve Pitt have given me a lot of help,' she said. 

‘It’s been brilliant to have support from the councillors, but also from council officers, because I don’t think we would have been able to get this organised quite so quickly if they hadn't all been on board with it immediately.’ 

Playing with her friends – and making new ones – six-year-old Lily-Rose Paterson said it was ‘really good’ to be able to ride her bicycle outside her home. 

‘It’s good because we can have a chance at riding on the streets and to feel safe,' she said. 

The Good, Paterson, Collins and Fox families as Francis Avenue, Portsmouth, became a play street. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (210719-57)

Her mum Sara, who is a teacher, said until the Easter holidays she had ‘never seen anything like this’ down her street. 

‘I’m all for children getting out and about and not having too much screen time, because that’s what they tend to want to do,' said the 45-year-old. 

‘It’s really nice to have the opportunity to get out and about in our road and meet neighbours. 

‘As soon as we woke up, my four-year-old, Ellis, said “is it play out day today?”’ 

Lillie Rogers, 8, and Blaze Rogers, 6 as Francis Avenue, Portsmouth, became a play street. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (210719-56)

Not far from the junction with Devonshire Square, mother and son Joanne Preston and Credence Preston-Diggles played catch. 

Joanne, 45, said Francis Avenue has ‘always been friendly’, but using it as a play street brought valuable new opportunities. 

‘Having the road closed has fast-tracked all our relationships,' she said. 

‘Southsea is great because you have the beach and Canoe Lake, but you don’t have that immediate access just to play out. 

Osman Alam, 6, as Francis Avenue, Portsmouth, became a play street. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (210719-60)

‘I did it growing up and my kids don’t in the same way because they have to worry about cars, pollution and danger. To have a respite from that for a few hours is really lovely.’ 

Credence, 13, added: ‘It's the perfect opportunity to get out – we’ve got to know all the neighbours.’ 

The play street also gave Evan Bryce, 50, a good chance to test his new electric bicycle. 

‘I’m trying to give up my car and commute to work on a bike – I’ve only had it for a day,' he said. ‘I think we should roll this across the city and see what we can do.’ 

Cllr Suzy Horton said options to enable residents to apply to become a play street were in the works. 

‘My ideal would be that they’re going on regularly across the city so it’s not just these families in this area that are benefiting from them,’ she said.

Coco Preston-Diggles, 11, as Francis Avenue, Portsmouth, became a play street. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (210719-58