Tim Gill is an independent scholar, advocate and consultant on childhood. He focuses on the changing nature of children’s play and free time, and their evolving relationships with the people and places around them. His work cuts across public policy, education, child care, planning, transport, urban design and playwork. It engages with academics, practitioners, policy makers, the media and the wider public.
“Tim Gill rejects the premise underpinning almost every anxious, interventionist impulse of modern parenting – that children are more at risk than ever before from adults… His voice is striking for its persuasively measured calm.” Decca Aitkenhead in The Guardian.
Child-friendly urban design
Tim is a longstanding advocate for child-friendly urban planning and design. In 2017 he was awarded a Travelling Fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. This will allow him to study how the cities of Calgary, Ghent, Antwerp, Freiburg, Oslo, Rotterdam and Vancouver have taken children into account in their planning.
Tim is co-author of the first ever London-wide planning guidance on children’s play and recreation; the revised edition is helping to shape neighbourhoods for London’s children. As well as playgrounds, his interest in the built environment embraces streets, transport and public space, and children’s evolving relationship with nature. He explored this last topic in his 2011 report for the Mayor of London’s Sustainable Development Commission, Sowing the Seeds: Reconnecting London’s children with nature.
Tim argues for a balanced, thoughtful approach to risk in childhood: a position set out in his 2007 book No Fear: Growing up in a risk averse society. He is one of the global architects of risk benefit assessment (RBA), having had a leading role in its development in the UK over two decades. He is co-author of the government-funded publication Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide. The approach set out in this publication is supported by the UK’s overarching safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive.
Tim’s consultancy clients include the National Trust, London Legacy Development Company, Forestry Commission, Mayor of London, Argent plc and Play England. He is a Built Environment Expert for Design Council CABE, the UK Government’s design champion for the built environment, and an adviser to the UK Play Safety Forum.
“Tim has delivered a range of services that have been eloquently tailored to our local context with an informed eye and agile mind… Tim’s ability to adapt his message and delivery-style to connect with a diversity of audiences was regarded as a key strength.” Testimonial from Fraser Keegan, State Manager, Obesity Prevention and Lifestyle Program, South Australia
Tim has advised political parties and thinktanks across the political spectrum. In 2008 he shared the platform with David Cameron and David Willetts at the launch of the Conservative Party’s Childhood Review.
Tim appears regularly on radio and television. He has given talks and run workshops and seminars with audiences in Europe, North and South America, Australasia and Japan. He has been widely published in the mainstream, academic and trade media.
In 2009 Edge Hill University, Lancashire, awarded Tim an honorary doctorate for his “outstanding contribution to improving children’s lives through challenging our views of childhood in a ‘no risk’ culture.” In 2012 Tim accepted an invitation to be the founding patron of the Forest School Association. He is on the international advisory board for the journal Children’s Geographies.
An introduction to Tim’s views
In 2011 Vichealth, the public health agency for Victoria, Australia, recorded a series of interviews with Tim. Here he discusses why children’s horizons have been shrinking for generations.
Tim was Director of the Children’s Play Council (now Play England) from 1997 to 2004. In 2002 he was seconded to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to lead the first ever Government-sponsored review of children’s play. The review was chaired by Frank Dobson and shaped the Big Lottery Fund’s subsequent £155 million Children’s Play Initiative funding programme.
As the child of a service family, Tim grew up in various places, including four years in the American midwest towns of Fairborn and Yellow Springs in Ohio. He ended up in Haddenham, a large village in Buckinghamshire. He won a scholarship to read mathematics at Keble College, Oxford, but switched his degree course, graduating in philosophy and psychology in 1987. In 1996 he completed a Master’s in philosophy at Birkbeck College, London.
Tim lives in Walthamstow, London with his partner and their teenage daughter, having moved to London in 1987, and to the area in 1996. He is a volunteer playworker with Play Association Tower Hamlets, and can be found helping out on play sessions most Wednesday afternoons when he is in London. He was until 2012 a parent volunteer in a local Woodcraft Folk group, and between 2012 and 2015 he was involved in Wood Street First, a local community group. Tim prefers to walk or cycle to get around (and sometimes just for fun). As a parent, Tim has tried hard to practice what he preaches.
Children and young people have the potential to be more resilient, responsible, capable and creative than we give them credit for. Yet their lives are becoming ever more scheduled, controlled and directed.
If children are to enjoy and make the most of their lives, we need to revisit and revise our ideas of what a good childhood looks and feels like. We need to reconnect children with the people and places around them, and with the natural world on their doorstep. We need to design neighbourhoods so that it is easy for children to walk, cycle, get closer to nature and play near their homes. We need to improve play and recreational spaces and services, and ensure that schools, nurseries and childcare settings give children time and space for play and exploration. We need to support parents, so they feel able to give their children some of the freedoms that previous generations enjoyed when they were young. We need to accept that it is natural and healthy for children to take risks, make mistakes, have everyday adventures and test themselves and their boundaries.
In short, we need to expand the horizons of childhood.