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Belfast Healthy Cities

Our vision is to be a leader in creating
a healthy, equitable and sustainable city

Healthy Cities 21st Century

Child-Friendly Places

Place matters for children’s health and well-being. The local neighbourhood is particularly important for young children’s health and well-being, as they spend  most of their time in their local neighbourhood. The environment children grown up in also shapes their habits and behaviours, and has an impact on their choices throughout their life. Successful places give children a sense of belonging, a sense of identity and a sense of community. Supportive places enable children to walk or cycle to school, play outdoors, mix with people of different ages and incomes, and observe nature.

Not all children enjoy equal access to a good quality environment. There is a clear link between place, health inequalities and health outcomes. Poor quality surroundings can have a negative impact on children’s health. Place, if properly designed and managed, is an asset which can create the conditions for children’s health to flourish.

Belfast Healthy Cities have been pushing the concept of child friendly places in Belfast since 2011. Child friendly places is a key concept that both aims to give children a stronger voice in decision making and contributes to healthy places. A key driver for the child friendly places programme was the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The main aim of the programme was to provide children with a platform for sharing their views as a major but often less heard population group, whose healthy development and future engagement in society could be significantly strengthened through a greater sense of ownership over the places they live in.

To progress the child friendly places programme, Taking Action for Child Friendly Places, an inter-sectoral action plan based on extensive engagement with children across Belfast, was published in 2016 with the aim of highlighting the priorities identified by children in Belfast and putting child friendly places higher on the agenda of the city. It was the first document that put a focus on children and the built environment in Belfast. About 7000 children and families were directly engaged with using innovative methods to identify priorities and the action plan set out partners’ responsibilities under the following areas: Engaging and Empowering Children; Creating Healthier Places and Supportive Environments; and, Tools for Child Centred Spatial Planning and Design.

More information on the various initiatives of the Child Friendly Spaces programme can be found below.

Initiatives

Healthy Places, Healthy Children Key Stage 2 teaching resource

In 2015, in response to feedback from teachers, the Shaping Healthier Neighbourhoods for Children model was developed into a dynamic teaching resource in partnership with the Education Authority, the Public Health Agency and Northern Ireland Housing Executive.  Healthy Places, Healthy Children is a Key Stage 2 teaching resource that supports delivery of the Northern Ireland Curriculum on cross curricular skills such as critical thinking, teamwork and problem solving, as well as in relation to the World Around Us curriculum – a thematic area of learning comprising the subjects of geography, history and science and technology.

The resource, which can also be used in an afterschool’s or youth group setting, consists of seven Units, designed to support modular delivery over a flexible time period. The Units have been designed to introduce children to a project planning approach and enable children to work their way through a planning process from framing the issue and gathering evidence to identifying priorities and developing a delivery plan. The Units also include opportunities to explore different perspectives, compare subjective and objective assessments, and practise reaching consensus.

This Healthy Places, Healthy Children resource has been piloted with over 20 schools and has resulted in numerous proposals, developed by children and presented to decision makers, being brought to life. Work is underway to explore how proposals can be developed further as a partnership between schools and local agencies.

In early 2019, in partnership with the Education Authority, Belfast Healthy Cities launched an online version of the resource to encourage its use across Northern Ireland and beyond. This online resource allows teachers and other stakeholders to access a range of training videos as well as all the booklets and supporting teaching exercises. Further information can be found here.

Shaping Healthier Neighbourhoods for Children

The Shaping Healthier Neighbourhoods for Children aims to give children an opportunity to make their views about their environment heard. The project engaged 400 children through schools to explore their experience of their local environment through class-based sessions exploring healthy environments, a street audit, and an imagining session to share ideas, prioritise and visualise an agreed proposal. Events were organised to give children the opportunity to present their ideas directly to senior policy and local government decision makers. The priorities and recommendations identified by these children were also used to develop Children’s Voices - A Charter for Belfast and a report.

KidsSpace

Belfast Healthy Cities developed the KidsSpace which explores the creation of child friendly space in the city centre through pop-up events. The aim of KidsSpace is to encourage children and families to take ownership of public space. Activities such as arts and crafts, dance and puppet theatre are offered to encourage children to engage with the space, along with flexible play equipment and pavement chalk. The event is designed to be flexible enough to accommodate children from 3 up to 14 years of age, although most participating children are between 5 and 11 years old. The larger events have attracted an average of 1,000 children and families, and have also been used as a platform for public engagement on child friendly places through artists and art based consultation exercises. Since 2011, KidsSpace has taken place in a variety of locations across the city centre, including St Anne’s Square, Buoys’ Park, Writer’s Square, Belfast City Hall front lawns, Urban Soul, May Street and vacant units in Castle Court and Victoria Square shopping centres. Each event has been extremely successful with over 1000 children and parents, highlighting the increasing demand for family activity in Belfast City Centre. A report on exploring child friendly space in the city is available.

Planning My City 

In 2014, in partnership with the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) as part of their centenary celebrations, the 'Planning My City' event was held in the Ulster Museum. The four day event focused on the role that the built environment and urban planning play in children’s lives. and included arts and crafts, paper-bag houses, computer modelling/interactive areas, Lego® workshops and free play suitable for all ages. A miniature city model that consisted of houses, trees, roads, office buildings, a church etc. was at the heart of the event. A number of facilitated workshops centered around the model supported children to explore how a city is designed, what the uses of buildings could be, where they should be located and how they would contribute to the well-being of the city’s residents. Using a model, children were able to create their own miniature city and try out their ideas. A range of other activities provided an opportunity for children to demonstrate what they believe is required to produce a healthy and enjoyable place to live and work.

Evidence

Place matters for children’s health and well-being, because successful places give children a sense of belonging, a sense of identity and a sense of community.

Positive places can be the critical factor in determining whether children’s lifestyles are active and healthy. Supportive places enable children to walk or cycle to school, play outdoors, mix with people of different ages and incomes, and observe nature.

Young children spend most of their time in their local surroundings and their development is more affected by the environment in which they live compared to older children.

Not everyone enjoys equal access to a good quality environment. There is a clear link between place, health inequalities and health outcomes.

Poor quality surroundings can have a negative impact on children’s health. Place, if properly designed and managed, is an asset which can create the conditions for children’s health to flourish.

The local neighbourhood is particularly important for young children’s health and well-being, as they spend  most of their time in their local neighbourhood. The environment children grown up in also shapes their habits and behaviours, and has an impact on their choices throughout their life.