In our latest staff blog, our Chief Executive Helen Griffiths looks ahead to National Thank You Day this weekend and reflects on the importance of our parks and green spaces during the pandemic.
We have all got someone to say thank you to this year. Our key workers, the neighbours for checking we were okay, the delivery drivers who kept food on the shelves, the volunteers that got the vaccine out - they all deserve our thanks.
And at Fields in Trust, we want to say a special thank you for our parks and green spaces which have been a sanctuary to so many of us. So, we are joining in with national Thank You Day to acknowledge our green spaces. There is a renewed recognition of just how valuable these spaces are to us all - so we want to say thank you to our parks and to the park rangers and staff from local authorities and town, parish and community councils who maintain these precious places. And Thank You to the Friends of group volunteers who care for and cherish our parks and green spaces.
During the pandemic there has been a fundamental shift in how we live, work and interact. As we gradually return to a revised version of normality there are many elements of our reframed lives that are likely to have continued relevance, and we should recognise and be grateful for the things which have seen us through.
Parks and green spaces were one of the only places to provide respite from Covid-19 restrictions resulting in significantly increased usage of these spaces and a new recognition of their value. They were central to our collective health and wellbeing during the pandemic providing opportunities not just to exercise and reflect but crucially providing local, shared spaces to meet safely with neighbours and family. Looking forward there are many new habits that were formed during the pandemic such as the relocation of social interactions - meeting friends for a coffee and a walk or hosting children's birthday parties - into local parks and green spaces that should be actively encouraged to continue.
But alongside the wider recognition of the value of parks and green spaces the pandemic also highlighted how many communities have significantly less access to good quality green space than others, reinforcing inequalities even further in more challenged areas. Lower socio-economic groups, ethnically diverse communities and urban residents ascribe a significantly higher value than the average; therefore, a lack of access to parks disproportionately impacts disadvantaged and underrepresented communities. In parallel the social capital that is invested in many parks and green spaces by volunteers is likely to be significantly reduced in more challenged areas; further underscoring these inequalities. For parks and green spaces to provide the health and wellbeing benefits that are so well-evidenced, in a fair and equitable way in the future, then access to local, good quality green space needs to be seen as a social justice issue.
The Friends of Princes Park in Liverpool are just one of hundreds of Friends of groups across the country who have supported our local green spaces during the pandemic, ensuring they are beautiful, safe and welcoming places for us all to enjoy - thank you!
The long-term impact of the pandemic on green spaces should undoubtedly be that this greater currency results in civic leadership to protect their future. So it is encouraging to see Liverpool City Council, become the first local authority in the UK to protect all of their parks and green spaces with Fields in Trust forever. This partnership will see 100 green spaces, covering over 1,000 hectares, secured in perpetuity. The City of Edinburgh Council too have committed to protect additional parks and green spaces ensuring the vast majority of citizens will live within a ten-minute walk of a protected green space. These advances are to be applauded and should encourage more local authorities to act, because across the UK only 6% of parks and green spaces are legally protected and without intervention that picture will only deteriorate.
Placemaking-centred policy recognises the role of parks in creating inclusive and desirable communities, but interventions are needed to support local leaders to strengthen and legally protect these valuable assets.
Parks and green spaces are a universal public service ranked by more than two-thirds of people as the most important public space in their community, providing an annual wellbeing value of £34.2 billion and a saving of £111 million to the NHS each year. So, it is appropriate to look back over the period of the pandemic, to revalue the importance of our local green spaces, and to say Thank You! #LoveYourLocalPark
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.