Easy access to good quality green spaces makes us healthier and happier, improves our sense of community and encourages us to take positive action to protect the environment. Green spaces are important to almost everyone – the Covid-19 pandemic showed us just how important access to nature is. However not everybody has the same access to green space.
Research indicates clear inequalities in opportunity for engagement with nature – widening the gap in health outcomes between the richest and poorest in society.
The official statistics show that you are less likely to have visited a natural space if you are living in an area of high deprivation, have a low income, or are not working. Older people, people from minority ethnic groups and those with a long-term illness or condition are also less likely to visit natural spaces on a regular basis.
What we are doing
At Earth Trust, we strongly believe that everyone should have opportunities to benefit from the power of natural green spaces, especially those who are less likely to engage with the natural world due to forces beyond their control.
The Growing Places project aims to give some of the most disadvantaged people in our communities a greater connection to their local landscape.
We are joining forces with Aspire Oxfordshire to explore the needs, interests and potential for engaging people facing disadvantage with their local green spaces. Aspire Oxfordshire supports people into and towards employment and housing, as the most powerful way to break the complex cycles of homelessness, re-offending and poverty.
Between January and April 2023 we developed a pilot activity in collaboration with a cohort of Aspire Oxfordshire clients, offering wellbeing walks, green space volunteering, skills development and mentoring activities.
The pilot phase of Growing Places was funded as a kickstarted project by Chilterns and North Wessex Downs AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) as part of the ‘Mend the Gap’ fund. This programme of projects aims to enhance areas of the Chilterns and North Wessex Downs AONBs that have been negatively impacted by the electrification of the Great Western Railway.
Pilot phase outcomes
A series of workshops and activity days were set up, including walks, workshops exploring participant’s feelings about green spaces, clearing of ash, visiting lambing sheds and goat and kid handling.
Surveys were collected at beginning and end of the programme to assess the outcomes for participants which showed:
- 70% of responses showed an increased sense of life satisfaction
- 90% of respondents said that they felt more worthwhile
- 100% of respondents said that their happiness increased as a result of the project
There was some great feedback
“I want to volunteer for the earth trust I really enjoyed it, it is worth doing and I want to come back. I have learnt many new things and everyone is very helpful.”
“I have really enjoyed interaction with all the nature around the clear wide open space the magnificent views so panoramic up here. The lambs were so cute a real show on the circle of life. What another great time spent with the earth trust!”
“It’s nice to get in the fresh air with the group all nice people and a friendly bunch. It was nice to be out in the woods and taking care of it, chopping back the deceased ash so it didn’t infect the other trees. I enjoyed being out in the sun and I’ll definitely be coming again when it’s on again.”
Following the success of the pilot, we are actively seeking funders for the next phase of the project to deepen our understanding of how best to connect wider range of people with nature.
Our aim is to help deliver greater diversity and inclusivity of people accessing natural green spaces, raising awareness of the landscape and people’s connectivity with it, and identifying how different communities can get involved with their local landscapes.
Working in partnership with local delivery organisations, we seek to co-design a range of activities, ways of working, tools and opportunities that engage socio-demographic groups that typically do not, or are not able to access and engage with the AONB green spaces.
The impact we hope to see
- This project will support a more diverse group of people to access and engage with natural green spaces developing a closer connection with nature and a greater involvement in their local landscape.
- Increased understanding of the barriers to accessing and engaging with natural green spaces – including, and beyond the Chilterns and Wessex Downs AONBs, and identify ways to mitigate and overcome these.
- Learning from the project will be used to inform future engagement and access opportunities for diverse groups to be involved with their greenspaces and AONB.