In 2006, the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) launched its £155m funding initiative for children’s play with the aim of creating, improving and developing inclusive play provision across England in the areas of greatest need.

The initiative was based on the recommendations of Frank Dobson’s 2004 national play review ‘Getting Serious About Play’ which recommended the use of lottery money to improve children’s play opportunities through a dedicated play programme.

The resulting Children’s Play initiative aimed to:

  • create, improve and develop children and young people’s free local play spaces and opportunities throughout England, according to need
  • support innovation and new ways of providing for children’s play
  • create a support and development infrastructure to ensure local agencies have the resources and skills to achieve the first two aims
  • promote the long-term strategic and sustainable provision for play as a free public service to children
  • ensure that local authorities work with other local stakeholders to develop children’s play strategies and plans
  • ensure that good, inclusive and accessible children’s play services and facilities are provided locally.

The initiative had three funding streams:

Children’s Play programme

£124 million was allocated to local authorities across England on the basis of size and need, to provide free, local and inclusive play opportunities.

Local authorities were invited to work with partners to develop a play strategy and portfolio of projects to address identified needs as the basis for an application for their allocated sum.

The former Children’s Play Council produced Planning for Play guidance for local authorities on the production and implementation of local play strategies.

We established a team in each of the nine English regions to provide support to local authorities developing their play strategies and subsequent applications to BIG.

In partnership with CABE Space, we recruited a team of 40 specialist ‘strategic enablers’ to provide support to local authorities and their partners where the need was greater than could be met through our regional teams.

BIG made a total of 351 awards to local authorities with a value of £123,093,923 The final round of awards were made in August 2008.

Playful Ideas programme

£16 million was made available on an open bidding basis for innovative projects in planning, design or delivery of free play opportunities. The voluntary and community sector was particularly encouraged to apply.

BIG made available capital and revenue grants of between £10,000 and £250,000 for projects lasting up to five years. 64 grants were awarded with a total value of £12,076,642.

Playful Ideas focused on exploring new and innovative ways of supporting children’s play, and projects were required to meet two of the following outcomes:

  • children will be able to enjoy novel play experiences, ideas or technology
  • children will have new or different ways of choosing and controlling their play environment
  • children will enjoy new approaches to play provision.

Play England’s regional support and development programme
£15million was awarded to the National Children’s Bureau to establish the Play England project for five years. We were funded by BIG until March 2011.

We provided information to support applications to both of the above programmes with teams set up across the nine regions.

In addition to working directly with local authorities, regional teams were active influencing for change within regional government and agencies, to ensure that play is considered in all regional strategic planning. Teams also worked to build the capacity of regional play sector with some regions establishing new play support networks where needed.

We also used lottery funding to give play greater profile and priority nationally. Building upon the work of our predecessor, the Children’s Play Council, this work, which continued until March 2011, included:

  • representing the play sector to government, the media and others
  • researching, developing and advocating policies for play
  • campaigning for children’s play
  • promoting good practice in play development and provision
  • staging national conference and events
  • producing information, briefings and good practice publications.

Our long-term aim is the provision of play spaces that are inclusive and free to all children and young people in England.