JULIA GREGORY, LOCAL DEMOCRACY REPORTER
Camden and Islington councils are keen to encourage use of green spaces as part of their new ‘parks for health‘ strategy.
The strategy aims to get people using their open spaces to boost their health and enjoy activities such as sport and gardening groups growing food. The two councils – which both have significant areas covered by the EC1 postcode – used more than £667,000 of funding awarded in 2019 with money from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, National Trust and GLA to draw up plans to use green spaces as a way of making people healthier.
It saw them join forces with 36 friends and park users. groups, 53 voluntary organisations and nine GP practices who prescribe green and well-being activities to boost patient health.
Camden’s head of green spaces Oliver Jones said: “The pandemic’s really changed our way of thinking and changed our way to accept ideas from outside.”
The councils have also worked with community groups to ensure everyone knows the parks are free and open to all such as letting peo ple know there are dog-free parks if they prefer.
Anna Wright, the councillor in charge of health and well-being in Camden said two in five residents do not have access to private outdoor space – the third highest in the country.
“Our parks therefore act as shared gardens for those who do not have one and provide a space both to relax, be sociable and keep active, indeed research has shown that regular use, of at least once a week, of a green space is associated with a 43% lower risk of poor general health.” She said the collaboration with Islington Council, GPS and users groups was invaluable. “The care the users groups give to their parks is inspiring. Their love of open spaces really inspires them.” The daily exercise allowed during lockdown had really opened up spaces and “gave people a sense of ownership.”
The project has seen an increase in GP referrals to activities such as walking groups, gardening and growing food. Cerdic Hall, primary care nurse consultant and recovery lead at Camden and Islington mental health trust explained the value of getting outdoors.
“We are really dealing with the Covid shellshock and people are being left with a sense of isolation and the inequalities have been writ large.”
He said: “Green spaces are a way for us to gather ourselves and tune into ourselves and what our needs are.”
He said this can be “a great healer for trauma,” adding, “The only way you can manage resource limitations is to work together.”
Donna Turnbull, Voluntary Action Camden’s community development manager helps signpost people to social prescribing. They might be encouraged to try out a heritage or exercise group, grow food or try a green gym and people can arrange to meet them for their first visit.
She said: “People can self refer or GPs and all sorts of clinicians do. It’s been very important for long covid, part of the rehabilitation is getting outside, walking in parks is part of the long Covid referral.”