BLOG: Putting social justice at the heart of green spaces

It has been clear for many years that those who would most benefit from accessing nature on a regular basis are least likely to do so. The Covid-19 lockdown has highlighted and exacerbated this inequity. Groundwork welcomes the new evidence on access to green space published this week by Friends of the Earth and the Landscape Institute and supports calls for action leading to greater equity.

Parks and urban green/blue spaces are where most of us get our daily dose of nature, and yet for some people in some communities they remain close-by but off-limits. Understanding why that is and capturing the insight and ideas for how it might be addressed will be vital at this moment of national ‘re-set’.

If we are to address the issues highlighted by this week’s reports, we need to reimagine parks to ensure that they meet the needs and desires of citizens today. Most green and blue spaces in our urban areas are the result of historic attitudes to leisure or the by-product of industrial activities. This heritage is valuable but risks alienating some sections of society. As a sector, we should take a step back and ask again what the purpose of these spaces should be, working alongside communities to design the places they want.

We must also rebalance power in the management of parks and green spaces and build better partnerships – both with communities and between organisations. Many of the people who would benefit most from green spaces are not being included in initiatives and competition for resources too often leads to a duplication of effort.

These are long-term ambitions but that does not mean we cannot – or should not – act now. In the short term, Groundwork is calling for:

  • All organisations working on green space issues to develop a shared narrative around access and equity, putting social justice at the heart of policy and practice
  • Short term support for green space managers to cope with pressures on resources which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Co-ordinated volunteering programmes to take advantage of the upsurge in informal community support during Covid-19 and to help Friends of Parks groups become more resilient and representative
  • The roll out of nature-based social prescription, embedding community greenspace volunteering into the health and care sectors
  • More support and training to help frontline health and care professionals embed activity in parks and green spaces into the service they provide to their clients
  • Increased focus on the needs of young people as park users, drawing on the best practice identified through programmes such as Future Proof Parks
  • The integration of green space management into plans to tackle climate change through nature-based solutions, particularly in areas vulnerable to flooding, air pollution and extreme heat

Groundwork is committed to working with the widest possible range of partners to achieve these goals. Access to parks and green spaces is a core social justice issue and only through addressing it can we achieve a green and fair recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.