As our Summer of Parks discusses health and wellbeing, our latest staff blog comes from Policy Manager, Alison McCann, who discusses why calculating the wellbeing value contributed by parks and green spaces is a relevant and important number to know.
The majority of us would likely be able to give at least one childhood memory of a park and probably many more throughout the various stages of our lives. Having an active and curious four-year old child has certainly reaffirmed my appreciation of parks and it's hard to imagine life without green spaces around us, albeit we tend to live our busy lives seemingly taking them for granted. That's sort of the point though: we want parks to continue to be free at the point of access and publicly accessible to everyone. But that can mean that when hard and fast decisions are made locally, against a backdrop of ever-decreasing budget and resources, those green spaces are up for grabs.
I've learnt a lot about parks and wellbeing in my role at Fields in Trust over the last 18 months. The good news is that if you use parks regularly then it is associated with higher levels of wellbeing, better general physical health and fewer mental health problems. As a society we are becoming much more aware of the importance of our wellbeing and staying mentally and physically fit.
the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy
Synonyms: welfare, health, good health, happiness, comfort, security, safety, protection, prosperity, profit, good, success, fortune, advantage, interest, successfulness
So put simply, wellbeing is about 'how we are doing' as individuals and communities. It's about people and what environment we need to thrive. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) there are ten broad dimensions that matter most to people in the UK: the natural environment; personal wellbeing; our relationships; health; what we do; where we live; personal finance; the economy; education; and skills and governance (ONS, Reflections on Measuring National Well-being July 2013).
So everyone would probably agree with the statement "parks are good for us". They'd be right, but if that is the case then why are parks not wholeheartedly valued when it comes to the business side of things?
Our Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces research shows that parks and green spaces deliver over £34 billion of direct health and wellbeing benefits to UK residents each year and makes a net contribution to the exchequer by improving public health reducing GP visits and NHS spending by a total of £111 million each year.
Having a strong evidence base about the true value that parks contribute to society helps me in my role as Policy Manager to better frame the argument that parks don't just incur a maintenance cost but provide a much larger return on investment to local communities.
As Lord Kelvin, the mathematician and physicist once said: "To measure is to know. If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it. When you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers, you know something about it".
Take a minute to think of your favourite hobby. Then think about how you would feel if I told you that you could no longer take part in that activity. How much would you be willing to pay to reverse that decision and take part in it again? That gives you an indication of how to quantify the value of what something means to your own health, wellbeing and happiness. If we apply that simple equation to the entire UK-population you get an idea of just how much aggregated benefit gets accumulated, yet that social value isn't accounted for when decisions are made about public parks.
The other side to this debate of course is that you cannot and should not put a price on things such as public parks, as this can lead to the natural environment being compared to the market value of things. I agree that parks should not have a price tag attached and should absolutely remain free at the point of access. However, to enter into meaningful dialogue with decisionmakers about the future of public parks I believe it's crucial to have robust evidence that goes above and beyond the widely accepted statement "parks are good".
Being able to measure what park use is worth to people's health and wellbeing is pretty significant in this debate. Those values are not 'cashable' but we do know that regular park users report better general health so are therefore less of a burden on the NHS. Surely it's wise to take a preventative approach: more parks protected in perpetuity and more park users equals a healthier population and more savings.
My own health and wellbeing and that of friends and family really is the most precious of all things.
Favourite childhood park: Whitehall Rec, across the road from our house.
Favourite local park: Greenwich Park, it's my go to place not far from where I live. It's beautiful and there are so many interesting (and free) things to do and see... also great for whiling away the time and people-watching!
Favourite overseas park: Jingshan Park in Beijing. Whilst culturally very different to parks that I know it was similar in that it was the heart of the community and very well used by locals to socialise, dance to music, do ta chi and play dominoes.
Favourite park memory: Multiple childhood memories from riding my bike, playing with friends, playing in the snow and school sports day. I'm now reliving some of that with my four-year-old son!
Favourite thing to do at the park: I love riding my bike in and around parks, but generally just enjoying the outdoors and being active.
Alison McCann is Fields in Trust Policy Manager. She can be contacted by any of the below means.
t: 0207 427 2128
Alison McCann is Fields in Trust's Policy Manager. Having worked for the organisation for the last seven years, Alison's current role focuses on research about the value of green space to better inform policymaking, 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. Along with other sector professionals Alison represents Fields in Trust on the Parks Action Group to advise Government about a sustainable future for England's public parks. Alison also represents Fields in Trust on the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel providing the Secretary of State with independent objective advice. She previously worked in Sports Development for two London Boroughs, managing projects with a range of stakeholders and community groups.