To many it is a seemingly innocuous, irregularly shaped, grass-filled space. To my children and the neighbour’s children, it is an imagination playground. You might drive by in your car, reading house numbers and trying to find your destination, totally missing the magic that is happening right outside your car window. The wonder that is The Green (or The Field as you may know it). Suburban housing estates throughout the country boast similar spaces, an enclave of greenery in the middle of rows of houses. An oasis of opportunity.
I realise this is more appropriate to us urban dwellers and the countryside folk with their large areas of outdoor space will probably scratch their heads.
But space isn’t just simply space; a shared space can take on extra qualities.
This is never more evident when children of all ages congregate and find ways and means to play together, sometimes amicably, sometimes with squabbles – all skills that will help them mix with others. On the green in front of my house, my two year old can find himself part of a game with a group of kids that range up to eleven years old. While he is highly unlikely to be following the rules and is most probably just chasing them all around as fast as his little legs will carry him, he is delighted to be included. Equally, when one of the “big girls” says hello and waves at my seven year old on the way to school, I can see her puff up with pride.
The green is about belonging, about finding their place in a small world that offers a taste of independence. Parents patrol the green, clutching steaming cups of tea and coffee while they supervise the younger ones from the sidelines. Adult friendships are cultivated sitting on the wall chatting while the kids use pavement chalk to decorate the path. It’s not just about children. I have come to meet more of my neighbours during my time following the toddler in his attempts to keep up with the older children than I would otherwise. Neighbours who aren’t chasing children of their own stop to talk, remember a time they spent with their now grown up children in the same space or simply commenting how nice it is to see children playing. It is a space that encourages community.
Numerous “studies” bemoaning the state of childhood today berate the lack of outdoor play for children. The Green helps counteract such a fate. Children freely climb (and fall from) trees, helped and encouraged by the older ones who have mastered the art of those particular branches before them. The games of our own childhood are repeated and enjoyed. Impromptu performances of plays concocted require urgent parental attendance. There are few props and toys in use, the majority of the play comes from the minds of the players, inspired by the area around them.
My seven year old takes off in the evenings the moment the car doors are opened, off to play with whoever else is roaming about. She is old enough now to not require constant supervision and it is wonderful to watch her blossom and her confidence grow from my vantage point inside the sitting room window. While she enjoys having her little brother along too, most of her daily timetable is dictated by his requirements so it is important that she has that outlet, just for her. Boys and girls, young and older play together. Finding common ground and learning from one another. It does my heart good to watch the gaggle of children tear from one end of The Green to the other, all shouting in unison and rushing to escape whatever imagined villain is pursuing them.
We feel exceptionally lucky in the neighbours we share The Green with; its value is appreciated and savoured. There has been community BBQs with kiddie sports days organised. Afternoon birthday parties have been celebrated that bled into the evening with take-away pizzas ordered so as to allow the adults stay out enjoying the company. Picnic blankets and folding chairs appear at the peripheries of the space on sunny days as the adults gather to chat and enjoy the weather while the kids play. It is the heart of our community, and in a time where community is a struggling concept, I will cling to The Green.