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Let’s Play Cork

Experimenting, improvising and evolving playful strategies to improve the lives of our citizens
Cork / Ireland
Size of city: 
125 622 inhabitants


Denise Cahill
Cork Healthy Cities Coordinator
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Following Lead Partner Udine (Italy) of Playful Paradigm URBACT network the city of Cork has engaged in developing a playful, game-focused approach to face marginalization and inequalities in its territory. The creation of “Let’s play Cork” is the result of the Transfer network: a stable steering group in Cork City, a diverse and multi sector group, coordinated through Cork Healthy Cities and Cork City Council along with members of local institutions and associations. Let’s Play Cork was able to develop actions locally such as: new pop-up play areas in the city centre, parks and libraries; play-based resources for use in city festivals; a toy-lending service in local libraries; and ‘street-play packs’ for neighborhood events.

Solutions offered by the good practice

Cork is Ireland’s second largest city, and a busy port, a hub of industry, located in the south-western corner of the country. URBACT Playful Paradigm Network, ‘play’ for Cork City Council was predominantly about the construction and management of playgrounds. A holistic understanding of play did not exist beyond a handful of practitioners. Learning from Udine meant adapting the god practice and inventing new project that could respond to local constraints such as the challenge to organize public events due to legal requirements for public liability insurance, or lack of resources as for the ludobus project.

The creativity of the URBACT Local Group led to the creation of a new figure, the part-time Play Development Officer and 26 certified volunteer ‘Play Leaders’, which developed a wide range of projects such as:

  • Toy Libraries: in Cork there are ten municipal libraries throughout the city. Thanks to the Network, members of the City Library and a member of Young Knocknaheeny, a group that specializes in early childhood development, had the opportunity to do a study visit to Paris and see how a Toy Library works. They came up with the idea to store “Community Play Bags” in the ten municipal libraries. The “Community Play Bags” are oversized sports gear bags containing equipment for cooperative play, which is appropriate for different ages. By placing them in the library system, the project has been developed to allow for borrowing by community-based organizations seeking to incorporate play in their activities.
  • Playful Placemaking The Marina is a road of approximately 2.5 km along the River Lee in the city. This road was mainly used for car traffic, yet it had potential as an amenity for outdoor recreational activity and for the general enjoyment of the river. The Cork project team decided to test two project actions namely to organize a playful festival and some pop-up play events by applying to stop car traffic on the Marina road for car traffic on four Sundays in the summer of 2019. The communication was not on ‘closing the road’ per se, but rather on opening the road for play. This was done as part of the city’s annual Lifelong Learning Festival.
  • Ludo buses inspired by the lead partner Udine’s good practice, Cork has developed its own Ludo Buses. Ludo buses are vehicles that contain outdoor games that can be driven to any public space/gathering and made available to the community as a play resource for a number of hours.
  • Play Packs With the disruption of Covid-19, the Cork City Council’s Social Inclusion Unit teamed up with the community and voluntary sector to create Play Packs. They contained booklets, video-tutorials and materials to create games at home, such as lollipop sticks, colouring pencils and crayons) and were distributed to hundreds of families in need during the first period of the Covid emergency. The Play Packs created a buzz in the local community and were seen as a useful tool also for other disadvantaged categories. Cork recently decided to start a new wave of distribution to people with intellectual disabilities and to people living in nursing home and long-stay hospitals.
Sustainable and integrated urban approach

The project of Cork has predominantly invested into soft measures for social inclusion, promoting the integration and collaboration of different actors both across different departments of the municipality with diverse and multi sector group, called “Let’s Play Cork”, coordinated through Cork Healthy City (Cork is in fact in the World Health Organization “Healthy Cities” network since 2012) and Cork City Council along with members of Cork City Libraries, Young Knocknaheeny (a group that specializes in early childhood development), Foróige (a charity which addresses youth development), Cork Lifelong Learning Festival and Meitheal Mara (a community boatyard in Cork). The scope has been to foster a play-oriented approach to education and public space management in the city.

In terms of sustainability  the city has continually sought seed funding from alternative sources to make Let’s Play Cork continue after the end of the Transfer Network. The city is also looking at specific investments based on the lessons of the project. Notably, the City Council has earmarked the riverside road for a EUR 4 million project to permanently pedestrianise it. Additionally, Cork is now set to transfer the Playful Paradigm Good Practice to more Irish cities, supported by the URBACT National Practice Transfer Initiative 2021-2022.

Participatory approach

The URBACT Local Group (ULG) brought Cork City Council together with public bodies and associations across health, education, culture and sports. The sense of shared ownership and entrepreneurial approach sparked unexpected opportunities and partnerships.

The ULG has evolved into a steering group called ‘Let’s Play Cork’ that has already started advocating for the concept of the ‘playful city’ to become a core objective of the City Development Plan and is also contributing to a ‘Manifesto of EU Playful Cities’.

What difference has it made

The Playful Paradigm  Network has led to changes in  attitude towards gaming and playing both in local, regional and national policy design and visioning, visible in new and fruitful partnerships between organizations.

Along the way Cork also learned to interject play into its interagency networks, allowing it to disseminate the core values and objectives of play. Partnering organizations subsequently incorporated play into their ways of working as well as to their services and events, engaging in new ways with the communities that they serve and reach. This has unlocked new forms of creativity to help tackle some of the societal challenges that every city faces.

Transferring the practice

Exchanges between Cork and the city of Udine were already in place before the Urbact Transfer network , namely through the  World Health Organisation’s Healthy Cities network.  But the URBACT  Playful paradigm network unlocked the capacities to pragmatically experiment the approach of playing the city in a number of projects, whose ideas and creativity is tied to peer learning among the European cities.

Transnational meetings between network partners enabled participants from Cork to bring home specific ideas and skills. For example, representatives of the city library and an early childhood programme were able to visit a toy library in Paris, leading to adoption of a similar model in Cork. Another workshop, in Viana di Castelo (PT), gave the Cork local group the con dence and theoretical basis to create the new River Lee Placemaking network described above.