Completed Research

A Place to Play: Children’s Play Needs in England’s Temporary Housing

University College London

The UK’s long-running housing crisis has recently accelerated into a new and damaging phase, compounded by rising costs of living. Social safety nets are straining to match the growing need for affordable, decent accommodation. Within England, there are now 120,000 homeless children living in temporary housing and the consequences of crisis risk hampering their development. This research will take an interdisciplinary approach to exploring the challenges that families living in temporary accommodation face, particularly in regards to ensuring time, resources and space for their children to play, placing leisure as a pillar for healthy social and psychological development. Using innovative methodologies, the research will consider how to best translate these community insights into policy action. This research will build on existing evidence from the UK’s Champions Project, which began looking at the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns on under-5s in temporary housing.

Hard to Reach

Families living in temporary accommodation in the UK.

Key Takeaways

Temporary Accommodation (TA) does not adequately consider the play needs of children, resulting in insufficient space, distress from instability, and mental fatigue that does not provide a conducive environment for play. While systemic, national policy change is needed, localized actions can be implemented with less strain on resources to make play in TA feasible in the shorter term. The following thematic recommendations are purposefully oriented toward policymakers.

  1. Implement low-cost, positive interventions to support the immediate play needs of those currently in TA.
  2. Encourage play in TA as an interdisciplinary focus area for collaboration across public, private, and third-sector authorities. Recognize children’s play needs as spanning the housing sector and the health, economic, and social spheres.
  3. Place human bonds and relationship building at the forefront of tackling the housing crisis and better supporting children’s play needs.


We extend gratitude to all involved with the project: faculty mentors Professor Monica Lakhanpaul and Celine Lewis, academic advisor Dr. Nadia Svirydzenka, early team member James Grant, the team at the Shared Health Foundation, and in particular, Rosie Austin with the Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, for acting as a bridge to families experiencing homelessness. We are immensely grateful to the three families and 16 professional stakeholders who took the time and energy to share their stories with us. The expertise and insights of many played a crucial role in advancing our understanding and for that, we are deeply appreciative.

This project was approved by the Ethics Review Board of the University College London (ID: 10901/004 and 10901/003).