In the second staff blog of our 'Summer of Parks' our Head of Programmes, Angela Lewis, takes a look at how parks and green spaces bring people together, creating informal communities.
Green space, fresh air, trees, the sound of wildlife - what's not to like about a visit to your local park?
This week at Fields in Trust, as part of our summer campaign, we've been talking about how parks and green spaces are the perfect places for local communities to come together and indeed to create new informal communities. I saw first-hand the impact that a green space can have on its community when I visited Western Road Recreation Ground in Hailsham, East Sussex a couple of weeks ago.
One of our 50 Active Spaces across the country, with protection and activity funded by the London Marathon Charitable Trust, local people have been participating in twice-weekly sessions run by Our Parks.
Between 25 and 30 people come along each week and they were all very happy to chat about how much better they feel since starting to exercise regularly. Participants have lost weight, seen their blood pressure go down, reduce their reliance on painkillers etc. but just as importantly they highlighted the sense of community that has developed. As Carole said, "I've met so many people and they're all likeminded, they want to exercise and they're just normal people, not big beefy people who want to go to a gym and work out – they're just great people and we do social things now which is a good benefit".
And Mel also believes that Active Spaces has benefited the local community, in our highly viewed video clip.
I believe a park or green space is much less threatening a venue than a building for those new to exercise, and that's one of the reasons why the Active Spaces programme is having such a big impact. There are fewer barriers for people who are thinking about taking some exercise, as Colin agrees: "If we're in a village hall somewhere stuck away people have got to look at the leaflet, look at the advertising, they’ve got to see it on Facebook, whatever; if you do it out in the open out in the park, all you have to do to join in is walk past".
Another great example of informal communities in parks is the ones created by Our Parks. Born Barikor, founder and CEO is passionate about spreading the informal exercise message and his charity is an ideal partner for Fields in Trust. He explains, "several academic studies have shown (and I know from personal experience) that people achieve far greater results when they exercise outdoors when compared to the gym. This combined with the vast amount of investment our local parks have had means it is now the ideal time to get more people outside using and benefiting from these green, healthy spaces at the heart of our communities".
When we take time out of our busy lives to visit a park, it makes us feel better. I'm an admirer of the journalist Bryony Gordon, and the way she capitalised on this to establish a network of informal communities through Mental Health Mates. Bryony's aim was to provide an environment for people with (or without) mental health issues, to meet regularly to walk and talk without fear or judgement. Looking on the list of forthcoming walks on their website, it's really great to see some of them take place on parks protected with Fields in Trust, such as the War Memorial Park in Coventry and Dunorlan Park in Tunbridge Wells.
If all this talk about green spaces and open air has inspired you to visit your local park, why not nominate it for UK's Best Park 2019. Just us tell a bit about why you like it, upload a photo, and it will appear on our website. And then when the voting opens on 5th July encourage your friends and family to vote for it. You could also get involved with our Have a Field Day event, and organise a picnic in your park on Saturday 6th July, joining communities across the UK who will be celebrating their local green space. Just register the event on our website to receive a free pack to help with your planning.
Whilst it's fantastic that there is so much going on in our wonderful parks and green spaces up and down the country, that fact is that there is growing pressure on land for housing, and whilst there are 2,809 parks and green spaces protected with us, that's only around 6% of publicly accessible local green space. If green spaces continue to be built on, communities will not be able to reap the benefits in the same way that Hailsham has done. Once lost, they are lost forever.
I think Kim in Hailsham summed it up perfectly when she said to me, "the local people in Hailsham have benefitted by the Fields in Trust making this park a place people can come to forever. You know, my grandchildren and their grandchildren, which is absolutely fantastic".
Green spaces are good, they do good, and they should be protected for good. Don't take your local park for granted, check on our Fields Finder to see if it's protected, and if not, ask the landowner (likely to be the local Council) to do so. And get out and about and enjoy the (hopefully sunny) summer!
Favourite childhood park: The Grove Park in Carshalton, where we played 'poohsticks', and tennis on grass courts!
Favourite local park: Nonsuch Park in Cheam - perfect for running, and for quiet moments sitting on the bench there in memory of my uncle, who also loved it
Favourite overseas park: Central Park in New York - beautiful in the snow, and with an atmospheric ice skating rink
Favourite park memory: Seeing my daughter's excitement every time we went to the local playground, when she was young
Favourite thing to do at the park: Watching my daughter play football
Angela Lewis is Fields in Trust Head of Programmes and Development Manager for Central England. She can be contacted by any of the below means.
t: 020 7427 2111
Angela Lewis is Fields in Trust's Head of Programmes and has a Development Manager role covering the East and West Midlands, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. She joined Fields in Trust in 2011 with a focus on the Queen Elizabeth II Fields Challenge and now leads the organisation's work on the Centenary Fields programme. Angela has always worked in sport and leisure for a variety of organisations at national, regional and local level including Sport England and London Borough of Richmond.