Evidencing the health impact of green spaces

Posted on: 25 September 2023 by Dr Elly King in September 2023 posts

Participants in a wellbeing activity, walking down a tree lined road with a river alongside.

Dr Elly King is the Science Communication and Impact Officer for GroundsWell, a research consortium evidencing the impact of urban green and blue spaces on health and health inequalities. Here Elly discusses her experiences of trying to connect patient and public involvement and engagement activities (PPIE) across a multi-city research group.

The link between green spaces and health is well established and the public awareness of this link has been greatly improved since COVID-19. However, the political landscape around green spaces is complex and transforming a space can require a surprising amount of paperwork and red tape. Departments that govern green space, active travel and health can be poorly connected and so there is more room for representation of health inequalities in urban green spaces design. Linking data across these departments is also necessary to understand how to evidence the role urban green spaces play in people’s lives. More importantly, is harnessing that data and understanding how departments work together in a way that will enable communities to take ownership of their local spaces.

Connecting with the community

The biggest challenge for GroundsWell has been ensuring similar approaches are followed across the three lead cities. Each city was at different stages of community and PPIE relationships when the consortium began. As researchers we have had to learn from each other and share our experiences, but we have also encouraged our communities and stakeholders to do the same. We hope to expand on this process with a reflective workshop during our annual retreat in November. One public engagement approach that has become a successful cross-city initiative and seems to be great at prompting discussion has been using LEGO to look at park design. We recently used this approach at a Clean Air Day event at Alder Hey.

Each city already has differing policies and programmes in place to improve urban green and blue spaces but have varying levels of public involvement in those plans. To improve this, GroundsWell’s focus is on co-production. We have public advisors across all cities and city hub meetings that are open invitation to co-produce resources with communities, local government and policy makers. GroundsWell also has a community blogger, podcaster and a community journalist programme aiming to provide different platforms to lesser heard voices and connecting with the actual issues and successes communities have with their local blue and green spaces.

Working together

GroundsWell is also taking a systems approach to urban green and blue spaces. This means understanding the multiple and interconnecting components of policy-making, practice, perception and people which together affect the presence, location, character and use of the spaces. It also means working to transform the system so that the components function together. Our priority is community engagement and partnership. We are developing and using meaningful community engagement, co-production and citizen science to understand the system, identify how and where it is broken, and co-create solutions. For example, we have recently conducted an evaluability assessment with local government and a number of representatives from community, industrial, retail and health groups on a local urban green space proposal that has resulted in several positive changes moving forwards.

This also supports us in linking data across different departments. Our starting point has been identifying where the gaps in knowledge are. Through our public engagement events we have heard what communities want to be able to use urban green and blue spaces for and how funding could be better allocated with clearer evidence. Presenting this to policy makers and data holders will be vital to achieving our aims. This would have been impossible without PPIE activities.

You can find out more about our events and work on our website – www.groundswelluk.org