THE CHILDREN IN HIGH FLATS
How can they play in safety?
Small people in high places have been the subject of an inquiry. It concerned the provision of playing facilities for children aged two to five years, living in tall blocks of flats. At a Press conference in the House of Commons yesterday, Mrs. Eirene White, MP for East Flint, and Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, MP for Finchley, introduced the report of a survey on the needs of pre-school children living in flats of eight to 25 storeys.
The survey was made by Mr.[Christian name missing] Maizels, assisted by graduate students from the London School of Economics, under the direction of Mr. Peter Townsend. Financed by the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust, which gave £750 for the purpose, the survey covered nearly 300 families with at least one child between the ages of two and five, living above the fifth storey in London flats.
The report, which has been sent to the Ministers of Housing, Education and Health, makes recommendations for the safety as well as the play needs of these little prisoners of our cities. It points out that the problem is increasing rapidly. Flats of eight to 25 storeys, it states, are being built in many cities, including Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Glasgow, Birmingham and Newcastle.
“The higher you go in the flats, the more anxious the mothers are about the safety of their children,” said Mrs. White yesterday.
When they start to climb
The anxiety began, she continued, the moment a child started to climb. It was then that the balcony often had to be put out of bounds. The children not only got insufficient exercise but insufficient air, and they lacked a vital factor in their develop [end p17] ment, that of mixing with other children. They needed playgrounds.
Mrs. Thatcher said that 94 local authorities were building high flats, and once the flats were up there was often nothing they could do. In St. Pancras, London, there was a nursery school with a wired-in roof on top of a block of flats.
The report recommends more attention to balcony design and safety provisions, and suggests that in some cases the roof might provide a supervised play space.
The pre-school child, it says, is apt to fall between several bureaucratic stools (Housing, Health, Education, Parks) and this may account for the present neglect of his special needs in many otherwise admirably designed estates.
One in six played alone
Included in the report are interviews with mothers in which they tell how their young children spent the day before the interview. The majority, about 70 per cent., had not been away from their mothers, while two-thirds of the children had not played with other children except brothers and sisters. One in six had played alone all day.
The flat, the report states, is the most important, the most frequent and the most regular place of play for most of the young children in the sample.
Dr. David Morris, a children's physician, who has just returned from a World Health Organisation tour of schools in Scandinavia, Russia, Czechoslovakia and Holland, told yesterday's conference: “These countries provide for children under five to a degree that we have not begun to think of.”