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Sorry sign of the times...

PUBLISHED: 16:22 25 June 2008 | UPDATED: 09:01 13 July 2010

AN AGITATED mum buttonholed me recently, upset at our intolerance and injustice towards children.

The lady (who asked me not to reveal her identity) was fed up with kids being told they can't run, jump, build a den or kick a ball because we adults find it a nuisance.

AN AGITATED mum buttonholed me recently, upset at our intolerance and injustice towards children.

The lady (who asked me not to reveal her identity) was fed up with kids being told they can't run, jump, build a den or kick a ball because we adults find it a nuisance.

She took me to the Stanley Road area of North Walsham, where I later returned to take these No Ball Games photographs.

The sheer number of forbidding North Norfolk District Council signs in one section of road staggered me.

This is not a phenomenon peculiar to north Norfolk; it's a national attitude of mind and part and parcel of our tendency to demonise children - the subject of recent debate in the media.

My informant wanted to know what was supposed to happen to all that pent-up energy if children were prohibited from playing outdoors near their homes?

Poor kids - they can't win. We ban them from kicking balls outside their homes, so they retreat indoors to play computer games and we moan about them being fat and unfit.

“Are you from the council?” asked a man from the Stanley Road chippy who saw me photographing. I explained why I was there.

He showed me his reinforced glass window and the clear, muddy marks of footballs on it.

“They don't hit them gently - they whack them hard. Would your lady like to come and pay for the damage when my window gets broken?” he asked, quite reasonably I felt.

“I see your problem but I think the lady feels that we don't provide them with an alternative,” I said.

The gent then pointed out that there was a large park in the town where parents could take their kids.

Meanwhile his companion fondly reminisced about growing up in a village where he and his mates wandered free without troubling adults or causing damage. If they had, the local bobby would have clipped them round the ear, he said.

My retort to both would be that in their day (and mine) parents allowed their under-11s to play far from home - but no longer.

It's completely unrealistic to expect a modern parent to accompany their child to the park for a few hours every day after school and at the weekends.

As for his companion, well the clipping of ears is not an alternative open to police officers in 2008, so it's not going to help solve today's problems.

And I don't suppose any of us was aware of the nuisance and damage we caused anyone else in our childhood - but I'm sure I was no angel.

I had a chat with district councillor Pat Ford about the dilemma, in her capacity as NNDC's Children's Champion.

Pat is committed to looking at things from a young person's perspective. She's passionate about the health and social value of play and has spent many hours, with some success, battling to ensure developers provide play areas, or money to pay for equipment.

She said: “I am pleased to tell you that it is not NNDC's policy to put 'no ball games' signs up any more as a) it is unenforceable and b) we try to encourage an open spaces strategy.

“I think we went through a blip where open spaces in planning were not deemed important.”

The need for more social housing throughout north Norfolk is acute but

the provision of open spaces for the youngest residents of those homes should be every bit as important as ensuring each has a roof.

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