Family’s bid to allow children to play safely in Portsmouth streets

L-R Robyn Mellor and Coco Preston-Diggles
L-R Robyn Mellor and Coco Preston-Diggles
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CHILDREN playing in the streets of Portsmouth could become a regular sight following the efforts of one city family.

After a temporary road closure in Southsea, Laura Mellor and her children were inspired to lobby the council for routine Play Streets that prevent through traffic during set times.

From left, Robyn Mellor, Sammy Piper, Eve Mellor

From left, Robyn Mellor, Sammy Piper, Eve Mellor

Residents of Francis Avenue seized an opportunity when their street was closed for roadworks over the recent Easter break, using it as a play area and space to socialise.

For Laura, 41, it made a huge difference to the community. ‘It was like a different street,’ she said.

‘The children were able to play out safely, the adults socialised, and passers-by stopped us to say how great it was to see children outside enjoying themselves.’

Her daughters Eve, 12, and Robyn, 10, used the opportunity make new friends as well as trying out their roller skates and setting up a lemonade stand.

L-R Hattie Preston-Diggles, Coco Preston-Diggles and Robyn Mellor

L-R Hattie Preston-Diggles, Coco Preston-Diggles and Robyn Mellor

‘If it’s not possible to have a Play Street in Francis Avenue then one in a nearby road maybe once a week for a couple of hours would be brilliant,’ Laura added.

‘And if we’re able to set something up then maybe other areas of Portsmouth can use what we’ve done as a sort of model.’

The idea of Play Streets was previously pitched by the Portsmouth Friends of the Earth group, along with the potential for School Streets – which are streets closed to through traffic during school pick up and drop off times.

Rachel Hudson, from Friends of the Earth, backed Laura’s cause. She said:  ‘Francis Avenue is in an area in the city that is far away from green space and the sea so there aren’t many places for children to play outside. It would be good if this helps reduce the amount of cars on the road.’

Lemonade sale: L-R Hattie Preston-Diggles, Eve Mellor, Coco Preston-Diggles, Robyn Mellor, Sammy Piper and Barney Walker

Lemonade sale: L-R Hattie Preston-Diggles, Eve Mellor, Coco Preston-Diggles, Robyn Mellor, Sammy Piper and Barney Walker

If implemented the Play Street would be sectioned off by two volunteer stewards at each end. Cars that need to access the road would be guided in slowly by a steward who would ring a bell or blow a whistle to alert the children. Flyers would also be distributed to the road’s residents to remind them.

Portsmouth City Council confirmed that its safer travel team will be meeting with Laura to look at different type of road closures and what would be appropriate for Francis Avenue.

Councillor Steve Pitt, the deputy council leader, wanted to see the scheme succeed.’ Encouraging a greater sense of community spirit through temporary street closures for play, really makes sense,’ he said.

‘I am keen to support this type of scheme that offers children the freedom to play in a safe space. Not to mention the health benefits from cleaner air and bringing the community together.’

Education boss Cllr Suzy Horton also revealed that talks on School Streets – roads that are closed during school opening and closing times – were currently underway.

Other Play Streets exist in Chichester, Worthing and Brighton.