This election year, let's help politicians remember the power of play

Earlier this month, I attended the Houses of Parliament.

No, I haven’t gone in to politics. I’m not sure I could cope!

I was there as a guest of The All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood, having contributed to a report on children’s play that it was launching.

As required by Parliamentary rules for these bi-partisan groups, the event was jointly hosted by the Labour MP, Kim Leadbeater and the Conservative MP, Adam Holloway.

Leadbeater is the sister of the late MP, Jo Cox, who was so shockingly murdered in 2016 by a far-right extremist. She spoke generously and movingly of how some of her most precious memories of her beloved sister were of the times they played together as children growing up in West Yorkshire. These memories were all she needed, she told the gathering, to be convinced of the power of play – and how important it is in children’s lives.

Play memory exercises are a tried and tested way for play advocates to engage with adult audiences who may otherwise regard playing as unimportant. We were all children once. If we allow ourselves to remember the times that meant most to us growing up, most of us can recall the feelings of joy, energy, excitement and camaraderie of having the space and freedom to play with our own friends, in our own way.

Children in hospitals and hospices, or attending other healthcare settings for serious or life-long conditions, do not have this freedom. 

But their need to play, and to forge these memories is no less strong. Indeed, the everyday enjoyment of life that is the simple, primary motivation for children to play, is a key to the resilience that can be crucial to how children cope.

One recommendation of the report launched this month is for ‘health play specialists to be employed across all hospitals that admit and attend to children … that their role is recognised for its essential part in providing children and young people with comprehensive care, support, and respect’.

Over the coming months, as we approach the general election, we will be doing everything we can to remind all those aiming to join the next Parliament of the simple joys of play – and of the cost to children when these are not protected for them when they need them most.