Frequent use of parks and green spaces is good for you, fact. But how many of us visit these free to use spaces on a regular basis?
Year nine of the MENE dataset published this week by Natural England show that more people than ever before, from all sections of the community, are spending time in the natural environment with 62% of adults visiting nature at least once a week.
Do we know what's good for us and that's why we do it? Or is it the fact that its free, close to home and, actually going to the park is like second nature (excuse the pun!). And that's the point, these spaces provide an enormous amount of quantifiable benefit to people in terms of their health and wellbeing, they also deliver environmental benefits - and yet, as one of our most valued public assets they are seemingly at the mercy of budget cuts. This short-term view is unsustainable if we are to help address the health and social care issues facing the nation.
To help crystallise this point our research Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces quantifies the health and wellbeing benefits that parks and green spaces provide to the individual. Using HM Treasury best practice we have identified they provide £34.2billion worth of physical and mental health benefits every year. It's a persuasive statistic, as is the fact that over £110million worth of cost savings are made every year because frequent park users have better general health and are less likely to visit the GP.
We need to act now to ensure our green spaces remain an integral and protected part of our social infrastructure and the built environment. It's on that basis that NHS England are working with housing developers to create ten Healthy New Towns which put healthy living at the core. The project is exploring ways to tackle health and care challenges such as obesity, dementia, and social isolation. Ideas so far include natural play areas for children, playable landscapes and outdoor gyms to get everyone exercising. This approach connects with our current programme in partnership with the London Marathon Charitable Trust, Active Spaces. By protecting 50 parks and green spaces in perpetuity and inspiring the most inactive of people to use their local park and lead a more active and healthy lifestyle through a variety of accessible activities.
Learning from the Healthy New Towns programme will be compiled into a guidance paper in Spring 2019 so any Local Authority or Housing Developer can apply the same principles for new housing development in the future. Our work with HAB Housing shows what may be possible when working with a developer on a smaller scale. As well as building an environment that encourages healthy lives, it must be combined with a remit to create strong and healthy communities that can grow and feel connected. Local green spaces are a crucial component of that infrastructure and our research found shared social motivations for using parks across demographic groups reinforcing the view that they offer shared spaces for communities to flourish. Fields in Trust are pleased to see that green space provision and community connectiveness are included in the learning from the Healthy new Towns project.
The body of evidence is compelling, so isn't it about time that green infrastructure was no longer talked about as a 'nice to have' but gets revalued in policy terms as an essential part of any conversation about the nation's health and wellbeing?
Alison McCann is Fields in Trust Policy Manager. She can be contacted by any of the below means.
t: 020 7427 2128
Alison McCann is Fields in Trust's Policy Manager. Having worked for the organisation for the last six years, Alison's current role focuses on research about the value of green space to better inform policy making, as well as overseeing the legal support function for sites protected with Fields in Trust. Alison led the commissioning, data analysis and report production for Fields in Trust's Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces research published in May 2018. Alison previously worked in Sports Development for two London Boroughs, managing projects with a range of stakeholders and community groups.