Karen Kay: It’s not all lazy sofa-surfing for the young

PUBLISHED: 11:59 29 March 2017 | UPDATED: 11:59 29 March 2017

We’ve leapt from hopscotch to trampolining (Photo: Dean McCoy, flickr.com)

We’ve leapt from hopscotch to trampolining (Photo: Dean McCoy, flickr.com)


Playing out in the street may have virtually vanished, but you can find creative play and healthy exercise everywhere, says Karen

I’m writing this sitting on a sofa in a vast pre-fabricated structure on a High Wycombe industrial estate. All around are children squealing as they bounce on trampolines. It’s a universal pleasure, soaring higher than nature intended with the aid of springy mesh, and I’m fairly confident that most of those in this mass Saturday morning bounce are experiencing the kind of ‘high’ that less healthy beings could be arrested for.

We’re here for a birthday party, a popular treat for youngsters who no longer find pass-the-parcel or musical chairs adequate entertainment. I wish they’d had places like this when I was nine and brimming with boundless energy. It is wonderful to see a generation blighted by accusations of inertia finding pleasure in leaping around, innocent of the brilliant health and fitness benefits.

Nearby, another unassuming structure sits amidst the warehouses and tyre-fitting centres: the soft play centre. Behind a corrugated metal and brick façade is a cacophony of colour, where slides, ladders, ball pits and tunnels provide hours of pleasure for tiny tots. During the early years of parenthood, this was our destination for parties and on wet days: a purpose built play centre where offspring could develop agility, balance and motor skills under the guise of FUN.

It’s easy to say modern children lead sedentary lives, and sadly, many do. However, look beyond those whose parents use iPads as babysitters, and you’ll find many youngsters exerting their need to burn energy.

Often, it’s just in a different way to how we did it. I’ve heard grandparents moaning “kids just don’t play out in the street any more”, but have you been to a skate park recently? Boys who would once have been kicking a football over the neighbour’s hedge are practising aerial acrobatics on scooters, BMX bikes and skateboards – and there are quite a few girls joining in, too.

The creaking see-saws and roundabouts that still sit in the park where I played are nowhere near as busy as they were in the Seventies. But the local swimming pool now has flumes, water fountains, and a climbing wall, so it’s a far more attractive proposition.

National Trust properties, once the preserve of retirees keen to expand their horizons with historical house tours, have evolved to attract families with woodland play areas, nature trails and activities designed to stretch young minds and bodies. A few months back, my wildlife-loving daughter joined a brilliant ‘bushcraft day’ at Waddesdon Manor, which saw her foraging for edible plants and kindling, building and lighting a fire and cooking lunch alongside a group of enthralled contemporaries with a suitably bearded and wild looking leader, of course.

They learned to collect nettles without getting stung, creating ‘string’ to secure leaves around a wood pigeon cooked over open flames. She took great delight in describing how they had watched the pigeon being decapitated, sliced open, its innards removed, and turned inside out as it was prepared for lunch. Far from putting her off her meal, it was “awesome” and tasted “absolutely delicious”.

So, let’s not jump to conclusions about the supposed sofa-surfing generation. Yes, many of these are organised activities, but my daughter and her friends are equally happy building a den in the garden. They might not be playing hopscotch on the street, but they are still running, jumping, climbing and having fun.

And when it comes to relaxing, they like the same things we did. My sister and I sometimes went to the Saturday morning kids’ screening at the tiny cinema in Chesham. Like many, it closed down as VHS video recorders and then DVDs meant families watched movies at home. The demise of the big screen was forecast, but the appeal of watching the latest release and making an occasion of it hasn’t gone away.

One of the teenage haunts was the Odeon in Gerrards Cross, recently taken over by the Everyman group and re-fitted with luxurious velvet sofas, plush cushions and the kind of luxury that makes cinema outings a real occasion.

Yes, the tickets are a little pricier than a bog standard screening at the local multiplex, but the bar is stylish, there’s a delicious menu, and it’s busy. As are all the modern multiplexes across Bucks and Berkshire. It does go to show that if local councils and private enterprise invest in leisure facilities, we all love getting out there and enjoying our downtime – even if our parents don’t quite understand why we don’t do it the way they did.


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