Love Parks Week is all about raising awareness about the importance of our parks and green spaces. But why exactly are they important? This blog, the first in a series outlining the facts and figures demonstrating the positive impact parks have on communities, concentrates specifically on the social benefits of green space.
2.5 – 3 billion annual visits
The usage stats for parks dwarf that of anyother service provided by local authorities. Over 33 million people in England choose to use their green spaces, with around a tenth of the population visiting daily, a third of the population visiting several times a week, and more than half the population visiting at least weekly. The total number of visits per year is estimated at between 2.5 and 3 billion.
The value of the volunteer
However, people show their love of these places in more ways than just through their regular visits. Every year, well over half a million individual volunteers represented by thousands of community groups, working in tens of thousands of communities, give up their time freely and passionately.
“It is estimated there are around 5,000 city farms, community gardens, allotment sites, school farms, orchards and related groups in the UK, engaging with as many as five million people a year.”
Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens
Whether helping to improve a council-managed space or looking after community managed land, created by and for local communities, volunteering empowers local people to take more control of their environment and gives them opportunities to become more active in their community.
These people lead by example, and positively influence and change the behaviour of others. Green space volunteering is often the catalyst for wider participation, the development of community leaders and for wider community improvement.
The economic value of their work is around £30 million per annum, the social return on investment at least four times that much, with the true value to society immeasurable.
Bringing communities together
“The number one ranked issue for good parks and public spaces is that they give a sense of community. Only 3% of 5826 respondents disagreed with the statement: Parks and open spaces are a focal point for local communities.”
While well managed parks and green spaces can encourage visitors, and enhance social inclusion and cohesion, poor quality spaces, scarred by the evidence of vandalism and neglect, dominated by single groups and anti-social behaviour, can be a blight on any community.
However, green spaces provide a means for social interaction that can help to break down the barriers of unfamiliarity, fear and isolation. In addition, recreation promotes positive contact between different ethnic groups and opens communication in a non-threatening atmosphere, and people who participate in cultural activities are 20% more likely to know ‘many people’ in their neighbourhood.
“If parks and green spaces are well managed, research has shown that communities use their local spaces more, have better relationships with their local councils and take some pride in the area where they live.”
Urban Green Nation: Building the Evidence Base. CABE Space (2010)”
It is a measure of peoples‘ commitment to green spaces and belief in their importance that there are so many examples of communities working together to transform their local spaces.
You only need to look to the reaction in those areas where green spaces are threatened (like this community coming together in defence of King’s Stairs Gardens) to see the overwhelming feeling parks continue trigger.
Content for this blog is taken from the executive summary of the GreenLINK advocacy document, Blue Sky Green Space.