Mental Health Awareness Week 2021
Building Back Greener
Why do urban green spaces matter for community wellbeing?
For the second day of Mental Health Awareness Week, we are delighted to bring you a guest blog from Hope for the Future which looks back at the recent event they co-hosted with Aberdeen Climate Action for Earth Day 2021 where a panel of experts discussed the importance of green spaces in the urban environment.
The covid pandemic has shed new light on how we relate to our natural environments, with green spaces providing an escape during months of lockdown. The last 12+ months have made many people more aware of the importance of green spaces in supporting our wellbeing, and also highlighted existing inequalities in access to nature and green space.
Hope for the Future (HFTF) and Aberdeen Climate Action held an event on April 22nd, Earth Day, looking at the importance of these green spaces locally and to discuss how we can protect, maintain and create these areas in the future.
First held in 1970, Earth Day is an annual event on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection, which now includes a whole range of events that are coordinated across the world.
The event began with an introduction from Ishbel Shand, a member of “Friends of St Fitticks”, a group formed in opposition to the proposed removal of green belt protection for St Fitticks Community Park, a popular spot for local residents living in lockdown.
Speaking on behalf of St Fitticks, Ishbel described the importance of the community park for local people;
“St Fitticks Park is a sanctuary for humans, wildlife, pets. It’s a place where children with no gardens can play and learn about the natural world. An accessible community area that everyone can use and enjoy, free of charge. A place that is beneficial to physical and mental health”.
For those living in towns and cities, these areas seem to have never been more important. Recent research conducted by Natural England (2020) showing that urban green spaces were the most visited type of green and natural space in April last year, with 41% of adults visiting these spaces in the month prior.
Dr Viola Marx from Dundee Green Health Partnership joined the event to discuss one of the key projects to connect the health care sector with the environment, Dundee’s development of Green health prescriptions.
This is a new referral pathway to link people to targeted outdoor activities in a community-based setting. Viola highlighted the many, many benefits for individuals spending time in green space and nature, including reducing stress and anxiety and maintaining a healthy weight among many others. This increases the overall health and wellbeing of a community and encourages the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle, all through interaction with the environment.
In order to ensure that these benefits can be realised, it is important to ensure that they are accessible to everyone. Dr Euan Hall, the CEO of the Land Trust discussed the need for long-term stewardship of green spaces.
In his role, Euan has been a strong advocate for long term investment in public open spaces over the last 16 years, witnessing first hand the role it plays in bringing communities together and creating great places for people to live, work and play.
“We [The Land Trust] believe the success of a place should be judged on how the green space looks in 5, 10 or 20 years time and the impact it has had on the people who call it home”
Dr Euan Hall, the CEO of the Land Trust
This idea includes the provision and maintenance of green spaces that are fit for purpose. The images of crammed parks during the pandemic has shown that our access to these spaces is already limited and studies show that it is those communities which are most deprived who are likely to face the biggest barriers to access.
Green spaces are important for many reasons; they provide much needed respite, space to exercise, places to play and are integral to happy and healthy communities. The event itself focused on Aberdeen but we know that this is the case across the country. As we emerge from the pandemic, these spaces will remain important, and as we look towards a green recovery from coronavirus we can ensure that every community has access to well maintained and good quality green spaces and nature. They’re vital for the planet and for its people.
HFTF is a climate communications charity which works nationally to equip communities and individuals to communicate the urgency of climate change with their local politicians. We feel it is vitally important that MPs and constituents have rich and challenging conversations about the climate and we facilitate this by providing training for individuals and local groups. We also provide tailored support at every stage of engaging your elected representative, from writing your first letter, to attending a meeting and to following up.