Tim Gill is an independent scholar, writer and consultant on childhood, and a global advocate for children’s play and mobility.
Tim’s book Urban Playground: How child-friendly urban planning and design can save cities was published in 2021 by RIBA Publishing. His book No Fear: Growing up in a risk averse society, published by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, came out in 2007.
Tim’s 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 Design Council Ambassador, and a former director of the Children’s Play Council (now Play England).
“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 interview with Tim in The Guardian.
“Tim Gill’s book No Fear is a handbook for the movement for freer, riskier play.” Ellen Barry, New York Times cover story.
“Tim Gill’s book Urban Playground moves beyond vague vision statements and policy documents to outline the concrete steps needed to make cities healthier, more active, and more joyful places for everyone. In the light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has revealed our stark urban divides and magnified the importance of decent public space, his message is more urgent than ever.” Olly Wainwright, Guardian Architecture and Design Critic
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 was published by the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2021.
Tim is a Churchill Fellow, having been awarded a travel grant from the Churchill Fellowship in 2017. 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 London-wide planning guidance on children’s play and recreation (published in 2008 under former Mayor Ken Livingstone); the revised edition is helping to shape neighbourhoods for London’s children. As well as playgrounds, his interest in the built environment embraces streets, neighbourhood planning, transport and public space, and children’s evolving relationship with nature. He explored this last topic in a 2011 report for former Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s Sustainable Development Commission entitled Sowing the Seeds: Reconnecting London’s children with nature [pdf link].
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. In July 2021 he became Chair of the UK Play Safety Forum, a body whose work he has supported since the 1990s.
Tim is 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.
More on Tim’s work
Tim’s consultancy clients include national and local governments across the UK and throughout the world, household name charities and NGOs, leading corporates and built environment practices, educational and leisure providers, and campaigning and community groups.
“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. One high point was the BBC show A Revolution in Childhood, a televised debate on BBC 4 linked to the BBC’s flagship child development series Child of our Time and chaired by Martha Kearney.
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. As part of a ‘forces family’, 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.
After attending Aylesbury Grammar School, in 1983 Tim 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 Master’s degree, but by then the topic of children’s play had got under his skin. It has remained a work focus ever since – and became more personal after the birth of his daughter in 1998.
Tim lives in Walthamstow, London with his partner and their daughter, having moved to London in 1987, and to the area in 1996. For some years he volunteered as a playworker with Play Association Tower Hamlets (which sadly closed in 2020), and as a parent volunteer in a local Woodcraft Folk group. He also helped to set up Wood Street First, a local community group. Tim prefers to walk or cycle to get around (and sometimes just for fun) and is a late adopter to running. 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 childhoods, 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.