Camden and Islington councils announce shared vision to harness health benefits of parks and green spaces
Camden and Islington councils today (7 July) announced a joint plan to harness the potential of the boroughs’ parks and green spaces as focal points for improving wellbeing and reducing health inequalities.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns saw usage of parks and green spaces rise significantly, supporting local people’s physical and mental health.
With stark health inequalities existing in Islington and Camden, it’s crucial that everyone, regardless of their background, is able to enjoy the wellbeing benefits that parks have to offer. That is what the newly-published strategy – named Parks for Health - seeks to achieve.
In 2019, Islington and Camden councils were awarded an initial £667,000 grant as part of the Future Parks Accelerator initiative to reimagine how parks and green spaces could become an integral part of the health and wellbeing system.
Since then, both councils have worked closely with 36 Friends and Park User Groups, over 50 voluntary and community sector organisations, and nine GP practices. Together, the councils and these organisations have shared knowledge and expertise, tested new ways of working, and developed the Parks for Health strategy.
This has helped identify some of the barriers that people face in using parks – such as childhood habits, social isolation, feeling unsafe, and experience of harassment.
The strategy sets out a vision for removing these barriers by 2030, to improve social cohesion, reduce isolation and loneliness, increase physical activity, improve mental health, and reduce health inequalities. Significant steps have already been taken towards achieving this, such as running activities including green social prescribing, dementia health walks, and intergenerational events at parks and green spaces.
The Parks for Health strategy lays out the steps that both boroughs have taken, and will continue to take, to remove barriers people face when using parks, including:
- Investing in parks and green spaces to safeguard their future, to create more high-quality, biodiverse parks.
- Ensuring that both boroughs benefit from a skilled, confident, motivated parks workforce that have health and wellbeing at the centre of their roles.
- Working with local voluntary, community, and social enterprise organisations to ensure that parks are inclusive, representing and supporting diverse communities.
- Building on relationships with health and social care partners to ensure parks are utilised year-round for activities that connect people and reduce health inequalities.
- Working with residents to ensure that communities recognise the health benefits of parks and have the confidence to make use of them.
- Maximising relationships with partners – such as the Mayor of London, NHS, local businesses, and community groups – to ensure they adopt and contribute to the Parks for Health strategy.
Cllr Anna Wright, Camden’s Cabinet Member for Health, Wellbeing and Adult Social Care, and Cllr Adam Harrison, Camden’s Cabinet Member for a Sustainable Camden, said: “The global pandemic has starkly reminded us of the importance of all public open spaces, particularly in Camden where two in five of our residents’ homes do not have access to private outdoor space - the third highest 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, 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.
“This successful collaboration between Camden and Islington councils has demonstrated how we can enrich both our boroughs for the benefit of all residents by pooling our knowledge and resources and is a key example of how We Make Camden together.”
Cllr Nurullah Turan, Islington Council’s Executive Member for Health and Social Care, and Cllr Rowena Champion, Islington Council’s Executive Member for Environment, Air Quality, and Transport, said: “We’re determined to create a more equal Islington, and maximising the potential of Islington’s parks and green spaces so that they can support everyone – regardless of their background – to improve their mental and physical wellbeing is at the heart of this.
“Islington is Britain’s most densely-populated local authority, and just 13% of the borough’s land is green space, which is why it’s so important that we do the very best with what we have, to deliver better health outcomes for all.
“The Parks for Health project has enabled us to really focus on how we can use our parks and green spaces to their full potential to support health and wellbeing. The strategy sets out the learning that both ourselves and Camden have done through the project, as well as detailing our pioneering, cross-borough approach to reimagining parks and green spaces to harness their full potential.”
Parks for Health is supported by the Future Parks Accelerator – a collaboration between the National Lottery Heritage Fund, National Trust, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The Parks for Health project is also supported by the Greater London Authority, who are a funding partner.