reclaiming the street (stoke newington style)

2It being a normal Friday afternoon, just like any other, I’d been to the fishmonger on Stoke Newington High Street to pick up a couple of nice salmon steaks for our supper.  I thought the dog could use a bit of a walk, so I decided to take a detour home. That was the moment when the trouble started.

Turning into Dynevor Road I came across a posse of high-vis vest wearing community activists. They had blockaded the street with bunting and had set up camp. They looked like they were going to be there for some time. An hour and a half to be precise.

“Do you need a skipping rope?” one of them asked me, “or some chalk? You’re just in time.”

At that moment they all poured out. Eid celebrating roller-skaters, assorted super heroes, graffiti artists, guerrilla cricketers, rope tricksters, hula hoopers. Quite a lot of them seemed able to eat an ice lolly hands free. They were pouring out of school like it was the end of term. Maybe it was the end of term.

I found the organiser, a woman called Claudia Draper, who explained how it all worked. She said it was something called “playing out”. She stuffed a flyer into my hand and said there were 40 such “play streets” in Hackney as well as five schools and a children’s centre hosting events. The streets were closed off, some of them once a month, and the children were able to play. It was a way of reclaiming the streets as public space.

I was confused and slightly discombobulated and I asked her where it all began.

Bristol” she said, “it all began in Bristol.”

“Yes” I said, “that makes sense.”