This introductory paper sets the context for a collection of 10 papers examining, Best of times to worst of times? Appraising the changing landscape of play in the UK. It is argued that the contemporary geography of play investment in the UK is complex, with dis/investment in much of England being contrasted with much stronger national commitments to play in the devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales. However, even in devolved UK, Austerity pressures on local government budgets have rendered it difficult to sustain, let alone scale up, inherited levels of spending on play services. Through austerity, the national narrative of play that was fostered in the early years of the Millennium is also being challenged by a commitment to localism. The paper ends by introducing the four themes that are addressed in the collection, i.e. ‘how did we get here’; ‘austerity’; ‘austerity as threat’; ‘austerity as opportunity’; and ‘rethinking play and society’.