Councils push to get people using parks for mental and physical health

Two women walking in Highbury Fields

Two women walking in Highbury Fields - part of a push by Camden and Islington Councils to get people out into parks more - Credit: Islington Council

Camden and Islington councils are working together to encourage people to get out into parks as part of a new health strategy.

The two councils used more than £667,000 of funding awarded in 2019 – with money from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, National Trust and GLA to draw up plans to use green spaces as a way of making people healthier.

It saw them join forces with 36 friends and park users groups, 53 voluntary organisations and nine GP practices who prescribe green and well-being activities to boost patient health.

Vicky Lee

Vicky Lee, who set herself a project to get out daily during the pandemic, took photo's which she is now exhibiting - Credit: Julia Gregory

This helped identify some of the barriers that people face in using parks – such as childhood habits, social isolation, feeling unsafe, and experience of harassment. 

Camden’s head of green spaces, Oliver Jones, said: “The pandemic’s really changed our way of thinking and changed our way to accept ideas from outside.”

He said councils have embraced ideas like the talking bench which will be unveiled in Camden this summer as a tool to overcome isolation and food growing in Kilburn.

“It’s knocked down some barriers,” he added.

A woman takes part in a recent Mencap Islington walk

A woman takes part in a recent Mencap Islington walk - Credit: Islington Council

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The councils have worked with community groups to ensure everyone knows the parks are free and open to all such as letting people know there are dog-free parks if they prefer.

Cllr Anna Wright, Camden's cabinet member in charge of health and wellbeing, said two in five residents do not have access to private outdoor space – the third highest proportion in the country.

“Our parks therefore act as shared gardens for those who do not have one and provide a space both to relax, be sociable and keep active," she said.

"Indeed research has shown that regular use, of at least once a week, of a green space is associated with a 43% lower risk of poor general health.”

A man stretching in Caledonian Park

A man stretching in Caledonian Park - Credit: Islington Council

She said the collaboration with Islington, GPs and users groups was invaluable.

“The care the users groups give to their parks is inspiring. Their love of open spaces really inspires them.”

She said the pandemic accelerated our understanding of the value of the great outdoors.

The daily exercise allowed during lockdown had really opened up spaces and “gave people a sense of ownership”, she said.