View all news

Making Bristol more child-friendly

Press release issued: 28 October 2015

Children and young people are being consulted on how to make Bristol more child-friendly as part of a new research project. The aim is to create a new vision for the city acknowledging the needs of young people, which can often be overlooked.

Dr Debbie Watson and Dr Helen Manchester, from the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Law, are leading the research in partnership with Architecture Centre, Playing Out and Room 13 Hareclive. Their aim is to devise a blueprint for Bristol as a child-friendly city, co-designed by young people, and which increases their freedoms and access.

The project is being produced with input from decision makers such as the city council, urban planners and those working with young people. The ongoing research will be the focus of an event as part of the annual Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Festival of Social Science, and is supported by the University of Bristol's Centre for Public Engagement and PolicyBristol.

“There is an issue that children aren’t always considered when planners are designing city layouts and buildings, even play and leisure facilities designed for them,” says Dr Watson, Reader in Childhood Studies. “It’s not just about design though - it’s about the impact of traffic and affordable transport, health and wellbeing, as well as getting all children and young people recognised as equal citizens with access to every service and part of the city regardless of where they live.”

UNICEF launched the concept behind building child-friendly cities in 2004. The charity’s global framework for action outlined its goal of all cities and communities committing fully to guaranteeing children’s rights. This includes the right of every young citizen to influence decisions about their city, live in an unpolluted environment and meet friends and play. Some cities in the UK, including Bath and Leeds, are already working towards achieving child-friendly city status inspired by UNICEF.

The Bristol child-friendly city collaborative developed from an ESRC Connected Communities project involving the Architecture Centre and the University of Bristol. It involved workshops bringing together interested parties from planners to education experts. The aim has been to get adults and children working together in the same room to address what is good, and not so good about Bristol in terms of child-friendliness and to outline aspirations for the future. 

Room 13 Hareclive, which is an independent child-led art studio, has also worked with the Architecture Centre to run workshops to identify what people think a child-friendly future city should look like. In an event last year (2014), children and adults were encouraged to draw and create their vision. The studio is set up within a primary school in a disadvantaged area of south Bristol and children can go there to work on creative projects. A management committee of students aged from nine to 11 run the studio and this ensures the project is ‘truly child-led’ according to Dr Watson.

Addressing children's freedom and independent mobility in the city is also a key part of this collaboration. Playing Out began as a small, Bristol resident led project to temporarily close a street to through traffic and open it up for play. The idea has since spread to streets all around the UK.  

The next step for researchers is to talk to children more widely about their vision for Bristol. The idea of Bristol as a child-friendly city is supported by the current mayor George Ferguson. He will be one of the speakers at an event entitled ‘Towards A Child Friendly City’ on Thursday 12 November in Bristol for the general public and policy makers. The event is part of the ESRC’s flagship annual Festival of Social Science and the University's Thinking Futures Festival. At the event, Room 13 will be helping to gather further views from both adults and children, and will be encouraged to present their findings in a way which has strong visual impact. 

Further information

  1. Event: Towards A Child Friendly City
    Organiser: Alexia MacDonald
    Date: 12th November 2015 14:00-16:00
    Venue: OpenSpace, West One, St. George's Road, Bristol BS1 5BE
    Audience: Public (adults and young people) More Information: please contact
  2. The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council and takes place from 7-14th November 2015. With events from some of the country’s leading social scientists, the Festival celebrates the very best of British social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives- both now and in the future. This year’s Festival of Social Science has over 200 creative and exciting events across the UK to encourage businesses, charities, government agencies, schools and college students to discuss, discover and debate topical social science issues. Press releases detailing some of the varied events and a full list of the programme are available at the Festival website. You can now follow updates from the Festival on Twitter using #esrcfestival.
  3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Edit this page