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Sunday, Oct 25, 2020

London kids playing in the streets again thanks to 10-year-old's ingenious plan

Amazing photos show London kids playing in streets again thanks to 10-year-old's ingenious plan to reclaim them from cars
For some who are a bit long in the tooth, a new idea has triggered nostalgia for a time before nearly everyone owned a car.

Children in one part of West London have reclaimed their streets from motorists, making them a safer place to play and to befriend other kids in the area.

Under an initiative called Play Streets, residents won approval to close a section of Queen’s Park so that only residents and delivery drivers can access them.

t means their kids can rollerblade and play skittles or badminton in Kilravock Street - a 380-metre stretch of Victorian terraces – without fear of speeding drivers.

And whilst it would not have been possible without the support of Westminster Council and Queen’s Park Community Council, praise has been heaped on a young girl who pitched the idea to them.

Sophia Hawkins, aged 10, said: “I got the idea in early May.

“My friend and sister were playing in the street and there were loads of cars coming at really high speeds so we had to stop playing.

“But some cars would try to avoid us.”

Her father, Jacob, 40, said: “So we thought a lot of people wouldn’t mind if they were asked to stop so that everything could be safer.”

Sophia, who lives in nearby Sixth Avenue, continued: “We went knocking on doors here and in Kilravock. I told them about the idea and we gave out leaflets telling them about it.

“I told them it would be a Play Street and that the Community Council were looking into it.”

The father and daughter said it came out of necessity when the local parks were full of people and it was hard to social distance.

Sophia, who goes to St Charles Catholic Primary School, went on: “We had been in lockdown for three months.

“I wrote to the Community Council and I spoke to them over a Zoom meeting in June, just after my tenth birthday. Then Westminster Council picked it up.”

Mr Hawkins said: “90 per cent of the doors we knocked on were really for it. We knocked on at least 100 doors.”

The first Play Street day was July 21, when a 24/7 traffic order took effect.

As well as Kilravock Street, sections of Oliphant Street and Peach Road have been added to the scheme.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are set aside for families up and down the neighbourhood to take part, while parents volunteer to stand at the junctions with hi-viz vests.

New road signs and painted markings have also been laid.

“We still occasionally get taxis trying to come down, or you have someone who is completely insistent on driving through,” said Mr Hawkins.

“But the vast majority recognise this is something that’s really good for the community. And some people say it reminds them of when they were growing up here and there were hardly any cars."

Parents are also feeling the benefits, as they get to know neighbours they might otherwise have only glanced at from across the road.

Leilla Honorin, a mother of two young girls who lives in Kilravock Street, said: “Instead of having our little social circles we are all getting to know more people in the community. It’s great.”

The 30-year-old added: “Because of COVID people had been keeping more to themselves. Now it’s given people confidence to speak to each other after we have been isolated for so long.”

The new road signs currently say the Play Streets scheme will end in September, but Sophia said: “We think it’s going to stay and be permanent.”

What is London’s first and only Community Council?

Queen’s Park Community Council is the only one of its kind in all of London, and was set up in 2014 after a local referendum.

Community and parish councils are typically found in small villages that enjoy a limited amount of independence from county, district or town councils that sit above them.

But local residents in the area - which is also a ward in the north west corner of Westminster - decided to set it up using Localism legislation introduced by the David Cameron government.

One of its 12 councillors, who are all non-party affiliated, is newspaper journalist Susanna Rustin.

“We're proud of the fact that we successfully work with Westminster,” she said.

“It is strange being the only council like this in London. The referendum for it in 2014 was won with 68 per cent in favour.

“Residents in a band D property pay £50 extra council tax per year for it and all the money is invested locally and none of the councillors are paid, but we do have a paid officer.”

On Sophia’s Play Streets scheme, she said: “We have a really nice local park but it was really crowded during lockdown and the children's play area was closed.

“There's a youth centre called the Avenues but we had the same problem of needing a safe place for the kids to play and be socially distant.

“Sophia came to us with a proposal and she was amazing.”
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