One year ago today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation and told us we must stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. In the time since we have come to realise many things we previously took for granted. In most cases because of what we could no longer do, but in the case of our local parks and green spaces, because of what they meant we still could do.
A trip to the local park should be a simple endeavour, but never before have we appreciated the ability to do it quite so much as over the past twelve months.
Here's a look at just seven of the ways our local green spaces have been there for us when we've needed them the most over the last 365 days.
'Stay at home' has had a profound impact on the places we can go, even locally, but somewhere that has always been available is our local parks. The importance of local green spaces was best summarised by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick when in April 2020 he said simply that "people need parks". Professor Chris Whitty had a month earlier stated that "being outside in the park is a very good thing to do". Throughout even the toughest of restrictions, parks have been vital places to help us stay fit and healthy.
Many of us have adapted not just to new workplaces over the last year but to sharing them with new co-workers. Home schooling has brought challenges for many, but our parks and green spaces have been there to help throughout. Playing and being active amongst nature can support not just our children's wellbeing but help them discover the world around them. To aid with keeping little ones engaged with nature we put together a selection of fun-filled park-themed activities.
The last year has been tough for us all. In November 2020, mental health charity Mind warned of a 'second pandemic' as it published data on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation's mental health. Studies have shown that time spent outdoors in nature can be beneficial for our mental wellbeing. Put simply, being outside in a green space helps us to feel happier. Claudette Anderson from our friends at GoJauntly shared her story of how local green spaces have been vital for her over the last year in this guest blog.
We've all become familiar with new words and terms over the last year, social distancing being key amongst them. But whilst we have remained physically distanced from friends and strangers alike to keep each other safe, public spaces such as parks have been vital for helping us to stay socially connected for much of the last year. In the Prime Minister's roadmap out of the latest lockdown, amongst the very first changes to be allowed on 8th March 2021 was allowing two people to meet in a park for recreation, such as a coffee on a park bench.
Throughout history, parks and green spaces have always been places for people to come together, be it in festival or in protest. During the summer of 2020, Black Lives Matter demonstrations took place across the UK and parks were once again the location for people to make their voices heard. One such large gathering happened in London's Hyde Park, in Lydney demonstrators came together at protected Bathurst Park, in Stevenage a vigil took place at the protected King George V Playing Field, as did similar events on countless parks and green spaces across the country.
Blades of grass blow in the breeze. A bumble bee buzzes between brightly coloured flowers. Somewhere in the distance a bird sings its tune whilst a squirrel hops from tree to tree. A lot has changed over the last year, but a trip to the local park has been an opportunity to observe nature getting on with its daily business. A place to enjoy and appreciate in many of the same ways as we always have - by taking a walk; sitting on the grass for a moment; watching the world go by.
Parks are the most universal of our public services. Free at the point of access to everyone in our society. They've been vital resources for everyone over the last year. Sadly, as our Green Space Index finds, their distribution is not equitable, and they continued to be threatened with imminent loss to development. Last week Liverpool City Council made a pioneering commitment to protect all their parks and green spaces in perpetuity, recognising everything these spaces have given us during the pandemic and will continue to give us. We must call on our local authorities, our councillors and our MPs to follow the lead set by Liverpool and protect green spaces for good across the country to ensure we will always be able to enjoy the health, wellbeing, community and environmental benefits they provide. Because once lost, a green space is lost forever.
How have you been using your local park or green space over the last twelve months? Why has it been so important to you? Let us know by tweeting #LoveYourLocalPark.