A call has gone out for young people to ‘reclaim’ their parks amid growing evidence that green spaces don’t always provide the things they want.
The campaign is being backed by Groundwork, a charity which works to transform lives in the UK’s most disadvantaged communities through projects that improve green spaces, working with partners Fields in Trust and the National Youth Agency.
Funded by the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund ‘Kick the Dust’ initiative, the campaign draws on feedback that suggests many parks have become no-go areas for young people and those from certain backgrounds.
The wellbeing value associated with frequent use of parks and green spaces is worth £34.2 billion per year to the UK adult population and is estimated to save the NHS around £111 million per year through a reduction in GP visits.
“We know the impact of COVID-19 has resulted in a mental health crisis as well as a physical health crisis, and we know that young people have been particularly badly affected,”
said Graham Duxbury, Chief Executive of Groundwork.
“We also know that getting out into the local park to meet friends is one of the best antidotes, but that many young people don’t feel able to do this.
“Part of that is that young people are seen as the problem: whenever there is vandalism or fear of crime, young people are in the frame. However, that’s not supported by the evidence, which shows young people are more often the victims and as a result many feel excluded from these spaces.”
Graham said it was often the case that parks didn’t provide the things that young people wanted. Many, he said, were designed in a certain era and continue to be managed in a way that hasn’t kept pace with changing times.
“Effective consultation helps us understand what young people want and how they want to be constructive in finding solutions,” he continued.
“However, this consultation doesn’t happen often enough. We need to see investment in youth work as well as investment in parks themselves. We need parks that meet the needs of current and future generations.”
His comments are supported by young people who have been involved in the campaign from the start.
Kevhia Mair, 22, from Bristol, said:
“During lockdown, I heard a lot of stories about disadvantaged people, people living in one room and being stuck inside and how damaging that was for their mental health.
“Parks need to be more accessible – and accessibility covers a wide range of things. This should be at the forefront of the conversation. If you are creating something for the community it has to be accessible to every person in that community, regardless of their age, gender or ethnicity.
“People in these communities know what they need and what they would like, so it’s important the decision-makers hear from that community. It would mean everything if, at the end of this, they said: ‘We are going to listen and implement the things we are being told about’.”
Earlier this year, a report published by Groundwork drawing on contributions from 23 organisations recognising the need to reimagine parks for the 21st century, found major inequalities in people’s ability to access parks and other open spaces.
The ‘Out of Bounds’ report demonstrated the extent to which certain groups are not getting the benefit of regularly accessing ‘urban nature’ – citing evidence that girls and young women feel unsafe in public spaces, some disabled people feel uncomfortable in parks and young people from minority ethnic backgrounds have fewer opportunities to connect with green spaces.
“This is a social justice issue,” Graham said. “The importance of parks goes up as people’s income levels go down. And yet the data says there are fewer spaces – and spaces are of lower quality – in the places where you could argue they’re most needed.
“Parks play a hugely important role in society and should be for everyone. We know young people are interested and passionate about nature and open spaces, but their voices are not always heard by people who make the decisions.
“Unless we change the conversation, too many will continue to feel excluded. As young people get their lives back on track after the pandemic there is a huge opportunity to do this in a way which helps connect them with nature and connect them with their community. This is an opportunity that mustn’t be missed.”
As part of Groundwork’s campaign, young people are being encouraged to spend more time in their local parks, and to write to their MP to ensure parks and green spaces are made a priority in the Government’s autumn spending review.
For more information about the campaign, visit www.groundwork.org.uk