At the start of a week in which the value of our nation's parks will once again be in the spotlight our Chief Executive, Helen Griffiths, writes about the importance of parks to support public health.
Government guidance for responding to record temperatures includes the recommendation that we "Find some shaded green space". So for the second time in as many years our local parks and green spaces are identified as an important part of the answer to a public health emergency, but being able to follow that advice may well depend on where you live.
Our annual Green Space Index analysis identified that 2.8m people in Great Britain live more than a ten-minute walk from their nearest park. We found that the local authorities identified for Levelling Up funding have 10% less green space than authorities in the lower priority categories and that 40% of the worst performing areas for green space fall into the highest priority for levelling-up funding.
Access to green space varies from place to place and many communities particularly in deprived neighbourhoods and areas with higher levels of ethnic diversity typically do not have sufficient green space to thrive.
If you've found yourself at the local park more over the last two years, then you are not alone; nearly half the respondents in our recent survey said they have visited local parks more often since the Covid-19 pandemic. And 52% say they appreciate the parks close to home more than they used to (this rises to around two-thirds amongst those aged 16-44). A recognisable shift to more outdoor socialising as the number of Covid cases continues to impact our daily lives may well see the increased footfall of recent years maintained into the future.
Nearly half the respondents in our recent survey said they have visited local parks more often since the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday I will be in Westminster - after what are shaping up to be the two hottest days on record in the UK - to give evidence to the Parliamentary Levelling-Up Housing and Communities Committee inquiry into public parks. On the same day Fields in Trust's Research and Policy Manager, Alison McCann, will be speaking at the Local Government Association Levelling Up Local Inquiry into how the government's policies might better strengthen local communities.
It is positive that these conversations are taking place now and changing the way we think and speak about green space. The pandemic and the local impacts of climate change have shifted the perspective on our urban parks. This new recognition of the role of local green space delivers a real moment in time to revalue parks and recognise their role not just for health, wellbeing and the environment but for the local placemaking that results in a stronger, sustainable and more equal future for communities. Parks should be central to levelling up policy development and prioritised as a way to restore a sense of community and local pride.
Green space professionals have been delivering on the front line under significant pressure for some time and we need to make sure the wider conversation also includes government officials whose policy areas can be addressed by access to green space; along with engaging directors of public health, regeneration, planning, environment and business to create a cross-discipline membership placing parks and green spaces at the centre of solutions to a range of issues. Fundamentally the future of local parks and green spaces should be protected for the long term to secure the multiple benefits they deliver.
Helen Griffiths is Fields in Trust's Chief Executive. She can be contacted by any of the below means.
t: 0207 427 2110
Helen Griffiths is Fields in Trust's Chief Executive and is an experienced and knowledgeable commentator on issues related to parks, playing fields and recreational spaces. Follow Helen on Twitter @hegriffiths.