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 is a Built Environment Expert for the Design Council, the UK Government’s adviser on design, and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading (with effect from March 2020).
“Tim Gill rejects the premise underpinning almost every anxious, interventionist impulse of modern parenting – that children are more at risk than ever before… His voice is striking for its persuasively measured calm.” Decca Aitkenhead in The Guardian.
“Tim Gill’s book No Fear is a handbook for the movement for freer, riskier play.”
Ellen Barry in the New York Times.
Child-friendly urban design
Tim is a longstanding advocate for child-friendly urban planning and design. His book Urban Playground: How child-friendly planning and design can save cities is due to be published by the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2021. In 2017 he was awarded a Travelling Fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. This allowed him to study how the cities of Calgary, Ghent, Antwerp, Freiburg, Oslo, Rotterdam and Vancouver have taken children into account in their planning. Other cities including Recife, Tel Aviv and Tirana have also been included in Tim’s research, thanks to financial support from the Bernard van Leer Foundation through its Urban95 initiative.
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 is a global leader of the movement 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 architects of risk benefit assessment (RBA), having had a leading role in its development in the UK over two decades. He is an advisor to the cross-sector Play Safety Forum, and co-author of the government-funded publication Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide. and of the publication Risk Benefit Assessment for Outdoor Play: A Canadian Toolkit [pdf link]. The approach set out in these publications is supported by the UK’s overarching safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive.
Tim’s consultancy clients include the Bernard van Leer Foundation, National Trust, Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, Arup, 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.
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.
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.
The eldest of three brothers, Tim was born in Bedford, England. With his father in the armed forces, he grew up in various places, including four years in the American midwest (Fairborn and Yellow Springs in Ohio). After his parents separated, he moved with his mother and brothers to 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 1994 he started a Master’s degree in philosophy at Birkbeck College, London, and also took up a part-time post with the Children’s Play Council on a fixed, two-year contract. Two years later he completed the degree, but by then the job had got under his skin. So he decided to stick around.
Tim lives in Walthamstow, London with his partner and their daughter, having moved to London in 1987, and to the area in 1996. He has volunteered as a playworker with Play Association Tower Hamlets, and as a parent volunteer in a local Woodcraft Folk group. 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.