Islington and Camden councils have won a £667,000 grant to make their parks and green spaces focal points for improving people’s health and closing the gap between rich and poor.
Over the next two years the councils will work hand-in-hand with NHS and other colleagues on the Parks For Health Project, re-imagining our parks and green spaces to become an integral part of our local health and wellbeing system, and delivering on their original purpose.
The first London parks were designed as a direct response to a public health crisis, with large parts of urban populations living in squalid, polluted conditions. Today, these vibrant and vital urban lungs can still be put to use to address modern health challenges.
The most affluent residents in Islington and Camden can expect to live healthily for more than a decade longer than the most deprived residents. Taking full advantage of the potential of parks will bring benefits for all, and is vital in helping to tackle this disparity.
Helping more people to use our green spaces to increase physical activity levels – particularly those living in our less affluent areas and at risk of poorer health – will improve people’s physical and mental wellbeing, help nip problems in the bud, mitigate long-term health conditions and reduce social isolation and loneliness.
Cllr Janet Burgess, Islington Council’s executive member for health and social care, said: “This money will help us work closely with our NHS colleagues and others to put our green spaces at the heart of the healthcare toolkit – using them to help everyone to get healthy and stay healthy.
“We need to connect our least active residents with our parks and green spaces and all the activities that take place within them. The physical and mental benefits of getting out there – whether that’s walking the dog, going for a jog or breaking a sweat at an outdoor gym – are well known, and there are few other community facilities that have such universal appeal at low or no cost.
“But many of us don’t take full advantage and reap the rewards of getting active in the wonderful spaces on our doorstep. Our Parks For Health Project aims to change that for good.”
Cllr Claudia Webbe, Islington Council’s executive member for environment and transport, said: “Our parks and green spaces are tremendous assets to the borough. Established for the benefit of all, they are one of the things that makes Islington a special place to get healthier, whilst enjoying nature and the outdoors.
"In this dense urban environment, too many of our residents do not have gardens or green areas of their own, making our parks and the opportunities they provide even more important and unique. With the commitment of residents, visitors and volunteers working with the council, our parks and open spaces provide the foundation for a better quality of life for all to enjoy.
“I am delighted that our successful bid for funding means many more people will enjoy and genuinely benefit from getting active in these spaces, which can and should be a key part of any healthy lifestyle.”
Cllr Adam Harrison, cabinet member for a sustainable Camden, said: “Camden’s parks and open spaces are the green jewels of the borough. They can, however, offer much more to our residents than just being an outdoor space to enjoy.
“Many of these locations were originally created as a direct response to help address the needs of public health at the time. The Parks For Health project will build on this legacy, using parks as a base to help improve the health and wellbeing of our residents in conjuncture with local health professionals, volunteer groups and leisure providers.”
Cllr Jonathan Simpson, cabinet member for promoting culture and communities said: “We are delighted to have successfully bid for this funding. Enabling our residents to lead healthy, independent lives is a key priority within Camden 2025 – our vision to make Camden a better place to live by 2025.
“This money will enable us to develop closer links to the NHS, health providers, doctors and health charities to provide tailored opportunities for residents, many who may not use our more traditional fitness venues such as leisure centres. We will use our parks and open spaces to address mental health and wellbeing, whilst also tackling loneliness and social isolation.”
Both councils will build on existing relationships with the NHS, health providers, doctors and voluntary and community organisation to identify ways of maximising the use of parks and green spaces. The funding includes an initial period of strategic planning for organisations to examine how best to make the transformation a success, and consider how it will manifest itself in parks and green spaces.
This could include people taking exercise on referral from their GP or under a ‘social prescribing’ model, or help to link people up with the community and social infrastructure that exists around our green spaces, from Friends of Parks groups and gardening clubs to exercise groups and rambling associations, for example.
The new approach was launched on Tuesday, 18 June, with a selection of activities taking place in Caledonian Park in Islington and Cantelowes Park in Camden, and a ‘health walk’ between the two parks. Activities included:
- gardening sessions with primary school pupils, led by The Garden Classroom, delivering their Urban Forest School programme;
- planting education sessions and giveaways by the Octopus Network;
- a volunteer gardening session run by Friends of Parks and community rangers;
- fitness class and rowing activities, run by Better.
The grant of £667,700 comes from the Future Parks initiative, an £11million programme run by the National Trust and The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Parks For Health Project is the only scheme in London to receive funding, fighting off tough competition as one of only eight initiatives in the UK to win a grant.
Hilary McGrady, the National Trust’s Director General, said: “Today is a landmark moment for the nation’s urban parks. This is not just about new ways to fund and support these much-loved community spaces, but completely re-thinking the role green spaces play in our lives and how we can ensure they thrive for generations to come.
“We need to give parks a reboot and start thinking about them as essential elements of our communities in the same way we think about housing or transport. Future Parks is the beginning of something really exciting. What these eight places achieve will help guide how other councils and communities can really make a difference to securing the future of their parks too.”
Ros Kerslake, The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s CEO, said: “Our urban parks and green spaces are essential to the health and well-being of the nation and yet in some areas they are facing a very insecure future. Future Parks isn’t simply patching-up a few problem parks. It is enabling local authorities and communities to take a longer-term, strategic approach to managing, funding and maintaining them, so future generations will be able to enjoy their many benefits in hundreds of years from now.
“Developing strategic approaches and championing innovation are key elements of our new five-year funding strategy. Future Parks allows us to maximise our resources and to work with key partners to accelerate progress and share learning.”
Notes to editor
The Future Parks initiative is aimed at finding sustainable ways to manage and fund parks and open spaces, and includes advice and support from some of the country’s leading experts in conservation, fundraising, volunteering and green space management from the National Trust.
The Future Parks funding initiative includes £5m worth of advice and support from some of the country’s leading National Trust experts in conservation, fundraising, volunteering and green space management, as well as £6m from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and £1.2m from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
About the National Trust
The National Trust is a conservation charity founded in 1895 by three people who saw the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces, and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy. More than 120 years later, these values are still at the heart of everything the charity does.
Entirely independent of Government, the National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 780 miles of coastline and hundreds of special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
More than 26 million people visit every year, and together with 5.2 million members and over 61,000 volunteers, they help to support the charity in its work to care for special places for ever, for everyone.
For more information go to: www.nationaltrust.org.uk
About the National Lottery Heritage Fund
Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future. www.heritagefund.org.uk.
Since 1996, more than £950million of National Lottery money has been invested to revitalise more than 900 parks across the UK.