BLOG: Green spaces for all

This blog, co-authored with Disability Rights UK’s Get Yourself Active team, explores the need to invest in green spaces for all – and what you can do to help!

Local authorities in England are under increasing pressure to cut spending. Unfortunately, cost pressures mean that many local councils are reducing their spending, or at least not increasing it, on local parks and green spaces. 

English councils are spending almost £330m less per year in real terms on our parks and open spaces compared with ten years ago. And it is the most deprived areas that are seeing the worst cuts.

Better access required

Many people experience complex barriers to enjoying the benefits of connecting with nature

We know that the UK’s access to parks and other natural spaces is already very unequal. Almost 3 million people do not live within a 10-minute walk of green space.

And you are much more likely to fall into this category if you’re in certain demographic groups, such as those living on low incomes or from ethnic minorities. Also, if you are Disabled or have a long-term health condition, you might live near a park but find it inaccessible.

As the Guardian research shows, the quality of green space is often worse in more economically deprived areas. Groundwork’s Out of Bounds report, written with representatives from various organisations, including Disability Rights UK, found that many people experience complex barriers to enjoying the benefits of connecting with nature.

These barriers include:

  • Lack of accessibility, both within the space and on the journey to it
  • Lack of relevance, with parks and green spaces often designed in quite traditional ways that might not suit everyone that wants to use them
  • Not feeling safe or welcome which reflects discrimination and harassment that some groups experience in wider society

Why green space matters

The government’s National Disability Strategy, launched last year, made recommendations for local authorities to make children’s playgrounds more inclusive. We know how important it is for all children to be able to connect with nature and to have fun, safe and accessible spaces to play and be active. However, this is little more than a “wish” if local authorities to do not have sufficient funding to maintain accessible green spaces in their communities.

The government’s flagship Levelling Up white paper also acknowledged the role of parks and green spaces in our neighbourhoods – making them nicer places to live, improving health and wellbeing, and even boosting local economies.

However, it only committed £9 million to its Levelling Up Parks Fund – a drop in the ocean compared to the funding lost over the past decade and insufficient to address the inequalities outlined here.

The government is planning huge investments in urban regeneration through its Levelling Up Fund and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. Making access to nature a bigger part of these funds could help to bring more investment into our parks and green spaces. This would mean that more people can access the benefits they bring.

People power

Local people want to be involved in their parks, but they often don’t want to shoulder the full burden of responsibility without support or funding.

As the Guardian highlights, Friends of Parks groups – made up of local residents volunteering their time – have often stepped into the breach when local authority parks budgets have been cut. For people wanting to get more involved in their local green space, these can be a great outlet and a way to spend time outdoors with neighbours.

Groundwork’s Future Proof Parks, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, was a programme to get young people involved in their local Friends of Parks groups. This helped to diversify the groups and build confidence among volunteers.

But not every community has the time or resources needed to make this a success. Local people want to be involved in their parks, but they often don’t want to shoulder the full burden of responsibility without support or funding.

The current overreliance on volunteers to fill the gaps risks widening inequalities in the quality of local green space, making it harder to engage with underrepresented groups of residents.

How to help!

Ultimately, funds are needed for any of these schemes and that responsibility rests with local councils and government. With increasing pressure on their budgets, we must remind them of our local green spaces’ health and wellbeing benefits.

A good first step is to contact your local Councillor to ask about existing local schemes or to enquire about setting one up. It is an opportunity to question what your local authority is committing to the upkeep of local parks. A next step could be to help raise awareness and campaign on a national level.

That’s why a group of environmental and community organisations have launched the Nature for Everyone campaign, calling for the government to create a legal right to nature. This would mean that developers and public bodies like councils would be mandated to provide access to nature-rich spaces in every community.

This would need to be backed up by funding and resources but could make a huge difference to neighbourhoods up and down the country. If you want to support this campaign, you can sign the petition or contact your MP.

Tell them that you support the campaign and want local authorities to have more resources from the government. Looking after our local spaces is vital to good health and wellbeing. Local parks are the only access some people currently have to nature. Not investing is short-sighted and will ultimately cost more via our National Health Service.

Blog by Anna Denham, Disability Rights UK, and Fay Holland, Groundwork UK