Following on from Helen Griffiths' recent blog, which reviewed the latest evidence on the importance of parks and green spaces and issued a rallying cry for this evidence to be urgently acted upon, in our latest blog Policy Manager, Alison McCann, looks at impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and explains how we are working to act on the evidence and protect parks and green spaces for good for the communities who need them the most.
Even if it has not affected you directly, the repercussions of the pandemic have been felt by every one of us over the last seven months. We have had to change the way we work, the way we play and the way we live our lives in general. It has impacted on not just the physical health of the nation but also on our mental health. In her recent blog Helen Griffiths recalled the words of Secretary of State Robert Jenrick in April: "People need parks".
The pandemic has led to many of us reflecting on just how much our local parks and green spaces really mean to us. During the height of lockdown they were our way of getting outdoors and staying active; our green gyms and open air leisure centres. As restrictions began to lift they were the places where we could meet safely with friends and loved ones and start to savour some of the joys that a regular summer brings. That's not just anecdotal either - the data backs up the important role that parks have played over recent months.
On 16th March, the Prime Minister addressed the nation and asked us all to stay home to protect the NHS and save lives. Between that day and the end of April, Google's Community Mobility Data shows that on an average day mobility trends for workplaces, transit stations and retail and recreation were all down by over 50% on the normal baseline. The average day for parks on the other hand was only 15.7% lower than the baseline - when compared to the big drops seen for other public places, the role that parks played during these challenging times becomes clearer.
The real impact came as lockdown began to be eased and we felt a little more comfortable stepping out of the front door again, however. From the beginning of May to the end of September, whilst mobility trends in those other public places remained over 40% below their baseline, for parks the average day was 56.4% higher. On the spring bank holiday in May the trend was up 136% on the baseline, whilst the summer bank holiday in August records a 152% rise.
The evidence showing how valuable parks and green spaces have been to us over recent months is clear and just serves to reinforce what we have all experienced over the summer: a visit to the local park made us feel happier and healthier.
Our ground-breaking Green Space Index has recently been the subject of a case study by leading mapping provider, Esri UK, having also been shortlisted in their prestigious Customer Success Awards.
Read the case study
As Helen set out in her blog, the longer-term evidence supporting the benefits that parks and green spaces provide is increasingly plentiful and robust as well. This all supplements our own research which, to recap, estimates that parks and green spaces save the NHS £111 million a year in reduced GP visits alone. Whilst battling a pandemic which we know is more likely to affect those who are in poorer general health, parks really are on the front line.
The reason for acting is clear, but why do we need to act now? Despite the value we all place on them, many people do not realise that parks and green spaces are not a statutory service. Your local authority is under no obligation to provide them and they can so easily be lost to development. As the economic impact of the pandemic begins to be felt, cost-saving measures will be required by local authorities facing ever stretched budgets. We have seen in the past that parks can often be amongst the first to feel the pinch. So it is vital that we act on the evidence before it is too late. Because once lost, green spaces are lost forever.
The Data IQ awards recently recognised Geolytix's work with us to develop a model which allows us to identify and prioritise those communities who have the highest need for protected green space provision.
Read about the award
If we know that we need to act and to do it now, then how do we act and where? Over recent years Fields in Trust have been in the vanguard of new research and insight into parks and green spaces. In May 2019 we published our ground-breaking Green Space Index. This was the first time that publicly accessible park and green space provision across Britain had been comprehensively analysed and plays a key role in identifying inequalities of provision.
In May of this year we updated the Index with the latest data and, working with our colleagues at the Co-op, added analysis of how green space provision and access might be impacted by population growth over coming decades. As well as being shortlisted by leading mapping provider, Esri UK, in their prestigious annual Customer Success Awards, we are really pleased to see their newly published case study into how we used the latest GIS tools to analyse the data, construct the Index and then bring the stories behind the numbers to life.
Alongside this, we were delighted just last week to hear that our colleagues at Geolytix were winners in the Data for the Environment category at the Data IQ awards for their work with us to develop a model to identify and prioritise those communities who have the highest need for protected green space provision. By combining our own Green Space Index data with a range of socio-demographic factors, physical and mental health data and urbanity, we are now able to make targeted interventions where protection of local parks and green spaces can have the highest impact on the communities who use and love them. For the first time we can put the evidence into practice on a local level - the data really does show us where we need to act.
It is of course always gratifying to have successful endeavours recognised in these ways. The real reward though is for the local park users who will feel the ultimate benefits, and now is the time to move from the evidence to influence and action.
To achieve this vision, it will require all of us to play our part in ensuring we retain the precious spaces that have been so important to us this year. If you have a green space close to home then take ten minutes today to explore Watch This Space and commit to doing one small thing each week to love your local park, keep watch, or, if sadly required, organise a campaign. Like many charities we have also seen a drop in donations as a result of the pandemic. Our work is more important now than ever - if you can, please consider making a donation to support our efforts.
Together we can act on the evidence, which serves to reinforce what we all instinctively know. That green spaces are good. That they do good. And that they need to be protected. For good.
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 eight 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 spaces 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.