On the 12th March, I attended a seminar on ‘Reweaving the frayed fabric: green space interventions to promote wellbeing in Sheffield’, led by the ‘Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature’ (IWUN) Project. The seminar was presented by Dr Julian Dobson, and Dr Nicola Dempsey from the IWUN Project, at the University of Sheffield’s Interdisciplinary Centre of the Social Sciences.
The seminar were centered around the 6 ‘ways to wellbeing’ that can be made to improve wellbeing, with a focus on parks and green spaces. These interventions are:
1. The transformative toilet
Although it seems like a simple intervention, ensuring that there is adequate access to good-quality, accessible toilets in green spaces is vitally important in making sure that these areas can be used with confidence by a wide variety of people, including people with disabilities, and those with young children.
2. The connective cuppa
Despite initial pre-misconceptions, providing indoor cafe facilities within green spaces is very important in encouraging people to go outdoors, and in maximising the benefit that individuals are receiving from going outside. This is largely due to the social aspect of cafes, in that individuals can meet up with current friends, or meet new ones. For some people, getting out of the house can be a real struggle for a variety of reasons, so providing them with a safe and comfortable space to socialise with people can be the first step in immersing them in a more active lifestyle.
3. The community chorus
It is almost undeniable that the presence of a network of community groups, such as ‘Friends of’ groups, improves the quality and usefulness of green spaces. This is because these groups can put on events and activities that are appropriate and attractive to their local communities, in a way that local authorities often can’t. For example, community groups are able to gain the trust of local people over time, giving them the confidence to make the green space their own.
4. The passionate parkie
In a similar way, it is very important that Park Rangers are seen as more than just horticulturalists. They often have, or should have, a knowledge and understanding of the local community that is almost unique. They also have the ability to make green spaces more safe and welcoming for all members of the community, and should use this power to increase the footfall in their parks in a meaningful way.
5. The fertile footpath
Dr Julian Dobson proposed that inserting ‘green routes’, that link green spaces together, and that cover entire cities, could improve the wellbeing of local residents. This is because it would make it easier for people to access green spaces, and would also mean that more people are likely to at least walk or cycle along greener routes when travelling around the city. One member of the audience added that green routes make it easy for her older children to access green spaces independently, as they are safer than other areas of the city.
6. The magical maintenance crew
Much like the first point, the importance of this shouldn’t be underestimated! Without good maintenance, parks aren’t safe or attractive, and this decreases the number of people using them.
Other points that were made during the seminar included the fact that town planners prioritise economic and political factors over genuine green space improvement and that, although it is tempting to succumb to the pressure of presenting economic and political arguments when bidding for funding, it is very important to resist this pressure in order to preserve integrity. Dr Julian Dobson also mentioned the idea of the ‘massive small’, which refers to the idea that there are massive amounts of small changes that are occurring, and that these can amount to big changes. It is therefore very important that we both make small changes that will improve the quality of green spaces, and that we prevent small, negative, changes that could lead to bigger issues in the future. Additionally, although it is important to make changes to improve green spaces, it is also imperative that we ‘value the ordinary’, and find pleasure in simple green spaces. This also means accepting that some people don’t want their green spaces to change, even if they don’t have state-of-the-art equipment or an extremely well-kept garden, and respecting this view.
Therefore, moving forward, we at Your Back Yard will put more thought into what provision can be put in place to improve the overall wellbeing benefits of green spaces, as we often focus on the physical health side more than the mental health side. We already work with community groups and park rangers, but we will continue to have close relationships with them so that we are delivering activities and providing equipment that is beneficial to that community specifically.