Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Improving access to green spaces and tackling inactivity - response to British Heart Foundation Report

The Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Behaviour Report was published on 3rd April 2017 from the British Heart Foundation and summarised on the BBC Website. In it, it claims 1 million Welsh adults (42% of the adult population) are inactive and the estimated healthcare cost of this is over £1 billion.  
What can be done about this?  Wildlife Trust Wales have suggested, following the BHF report, that "We need more green spaces".
I have to partially disagree with that as Wales is full of green spaces. Populations within the SE Wales Valleys are built around vast areas of green spaces. Moreover, Natural Resources Wales states that there are 20,750 miles of Rights of Way across Wales and 1/5th of Wales is open access land; that is plenty of green space.
One problem is that many of our green spaces are under-funded, under-resourced, under-supported and all the problems which spiral along with that.
Some lessons could be learned from the relative new kid on the block (Parkrun). Parkrun has been a revelation and has 10,000s of people running across the UK each Saturday morning. The group mentality of Parkrun brings people together in a shared experience and critically includes the couch to 5k scheme, which encourages and signposts people with lower fitness and confidence up to full Parkruns. We need green spaces with good access and signage to encourage people to use these spaces. To get to my local Gwent Wildlife Trust site at Henllys bog I need the same equipment I'd need if I was going up the Brecon Beacons in changeable weather. The paths are ill defined, often overgrown in summer and totally boggy for the other 360 days of the year. These issues aren't Wales' Local Authorities' fault. They have been suffering cutbacks for years and years and sadly often only responding to complaints from the public. I'm not talking about improving access to every mile of footpath and bridleway across Wales, I'm suggesting focussing on those which are closer to areas where people live and there have been some good strides to do this in our borough, but it is largely grant-funded.
The work we have just started here on the LNR with the Gwent High Sheriff's Community Fund path project is tackling just that. Nothing says your not welcome here like the access in the picture below on the left. Furthermore, you spend so long with the struggle, you forget to enjoy the benefits of why you came here in the first place and the your hall is full of mud and you're in trouble. This is not going to get people from couch to green space.
The other angle we use which appears to encourage increased activity is to invite the local schools to come out and we deliver real functional practical outdoor activities. We've seen decreased anti-social behaviour and we've seen more adults walking on the LNR with children following these events. We've recently seen lots of small children showing off their cards at the entrance to the LNR, often with grandparents. Hopefully, they've also seen their snake's head fritillaries, snowdrops and primroses which they planted in October 2016 in flower this year. Getting children to take part in outdoor work not only gets them more interested in green spaces at a young age, but they also have more respect for their environment, more appreciation and more ownership. Best of all, they are also having fun.
The final part to do is to support community groups and groups of volunteers to undertake practical improvements to green spaces (like we and many others do). There is less money for staff and less money for contractors, but with the right framework in place more volunteer groups can be supported. Volunteering makes a huge positive mentally and physically difference to an individual, they develop a Parkrun-like collectiveness and the wider public get improved green spaces. If you play this well Wales, there is a pool of around 1 million of them waiting to be tapped into and a health bill of over £1 billion and rising if you do nothing.

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