How can we improve the quality of the environment, social cohesion and access to greenspace for everyone’s health and wellbeing?

How can we cut across generational, cultural and economic factors to help our citizens overcome rising problems such as obesity and social isolation?

1.1 Accessing quality space


People of all ages need access to quality natural spaces. The older population is growing. Many feel physically isolated due to a number of factors including inability to drive; the cost of public transport; and not knowing what resources are available for their age group, both on their doorstep and beyond.

Poorer socio-economic groups generally have less access to greenspaces (Public Health England, 2014), with children in this group having nine times less accessibility (National Children’s Bureau, 2013).

Why it matters

By 2041, the UK’s over-65 population is due to grow by approximately 50%, with the number of over-85s due to double by 2023 – faster than the general rate of population increase at 23% (Tinker and Ginn, 2015).

Less than half of people over 80 find it easy to travel to a hospital, and more than 70% of these are in fair or poor health (Holley-Moore and Creighton, 2015).

Studies in the Netherlands, Canada and Japan have shown that a 10% increase in exposure to green space translates to five years fewer expected health problems (Groenewegen et al, 2003). Green and open space is linked to better wellbeing across all ages and socio-economic groups (Maas et al, 2006), including improved companionship, sense of identity & belonging, and happiness (Pinder et al, 2009; White, 2013).

The mortality rate gap between deprived groups and the rest of the population is 43% if they have high access to greenspaces compared with 93% if the deprived groups have low access to greenspaces. Deprived neighbourhoods benefit most from close proximity and access to green space, helping to promote integration of diverse groups and ease racial tensions via casual encounters over recreational activities such as sport (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, 2010).


1.2 Empowering community action


Every community needs to be engaged with, and have ownership of, their spaces in the local urban environment. Ignoring basic community needs leads to lack of care and quality in greenspaces. Citizens’ own data is also inaccessible. There needs to be powerful, joined up data to ensure green spaces are fit for purpose, receive the right investment and are sustainable.

Why it matters

Parks and public gardens are associated with communities’ wellbeing such as satisfaction, social cohesion and interaction (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, 2005). Community ownership of spaces tends to engage citizens 75% more than non-ownership, and can provide a strong financial basis for leveraging additional investment for community services and activities, which local authorities aren’t able to do (Locality, 2016).

Community volunteering in local green spaces is worth £22-28 million across England every year (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, 2010).


1.3 Barriers to mobility


The majority of people use cars or vans as their main mode of transport, saying other transport systems are inefficient, inaccessible, too expensive or of poor quality.

New housing developers assume car ownership, while elderly people, or those with disabilities or from low income groups often rely on public transport – even in remote areas. How can we join up data so people can access efficient and safe methods of transport?

Why it matters

Approximately 70% of commuters in 2011 used cars or vans compared with 18% who used public transport, 11% who walked and 3% who cycled (Martin et al, 2014). Nationwide bus use, outside of London, dropped 32% over the last 30 years (Rowney and Straw, 2014). An extensive study has shown that people who stop driving to work and start walking or cycling benefit from improved wellbeing such as happiness and better ability to concentrate (Martin et al, 2014).

Furthermore, the health benefits of cycling have been found to far outweigh the harm caused by traffic pollution on the road (de Hartog et al, 2010). A study of mixed users of shared mobility spaces in Britain (drivers, cyclists and pedestrians) found that over 60% rated their experience as poor, including feelings of being frightened and unsafe, and 35% actively avoid these spaces. An under-reporting of accidents has also been found in shared spaces (UCU, 2016; The Holmes Report, 2015).


1.4 Enabling community cohesion


Changes in population and demographics within communities are not only straining services, materials and energy but social frameworks, too.

Diverse communities need community-led initiatives and solutions, as well as accessible, affordable and flexible community care. However, these are often held back by regulations; basic needs are being ignored and communities feel powerless to contribute to a solution.

Why it matters

Demographic changes within neighbourhoods – such as generational migration, different ethnicities and various working class groups – have led to more diverse but less integrated communities in Britain. Social divisions among communities reduce trust, and increase anxiety, prejudice and fear of crime (Fabian Society, 2016). Empowered communities broaden networks, enhance partnerships, and help grow citizens’ skills in community service, leadership and management (Laverack, 2006).


1.5 Barriers to mental and physical health and wellbeing


How can we get people of all ages and backgrounds to access and use public greenspaces, or commute more on foot or bike to improve their mental and physical health and wellbeing?

Privatisation of open spaces is limiting and discouraging their use; while safety concerns for children are preventing them exploring and playing outdoors more freely. People are equating happiness with material things rather than other values.

Why it matters

Studies have found significant association between use of greenspace and reduced risk of mental and physical issues such as respiratory disease, anxiety and depression (Martin et al, 2014). By 2050, over half of adults and a quarter of children are expected to be obese (Moss, 2012).

One in ten children aged between 5-16 are clinically diagnosed with a mental health disorder; one in 12 adolescents self-harm and around 35,000 children in England are prescribed anti-depressants (Moss, 2012).

Increased access to parks and open spaces could save over £2 billion of NHS costs from treating obesity, and also reduce mental health admissions (Wheater et al, 2007).

A study by Children’s Society found that almost half of adults think the appropriate age a child should be allowed outside unsupervised is 14 years. Children are growing increasing addictions to electronic devices, with today’s 11-15 year olds in Britain spending half their waking day in front of a screen, an increase in 40% of their time compared with 10 years ago. Less than 25% of children regularly use their local greenspace and less than 10% regularly visit wild places.

Greenspaces are also important to the wellbeing of older generations, as 40% of elderly people in England with need for care receive no formal support at all (Age UK, 2011).



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