Helen Griffiths: We'd all pay the price for loss of our green parks

WHILE we might think our parks and green spaces are pleasant places to stroll in the sun, or play on the swings with children or grandchildren, our new research shows these spaces actually deliver over £34bn of health and wellbeing benefits to UK residents each year.

Youngsters at Sandringham Park in Wetherby which comes under the auspices of the Fields in Trust charity.
Youngsters at Sandringham Park in Wetherby which comes under the auspices of the Fields in Trust charity.

This represents people enjoying greater life satisfaction including improved physical and mental health.

Fields in Trust is an independent charity; since 1925 we have protected parks and green spaces in perpetuity.

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We work with landowners, community groups and policy makers to champion the value of our parks and green spaces and achieve better protection for their future. Currently Fields in Trust protects 135 parks or green spaces across Yorkshire.

Kazia Knight has been rewarded for her work looking after Sandringham Park in Wetherby.

Twenty of these are King George V Fields, as a memorial to our founder. We also have 39 Queen Elizabeth II fields.

Our Centenary Fields programme marks the anniversary of the First World War and recognises those who served in the conflict. We currently protect 12 sites with a wartime connection across Yorkshire including Weston Park in Sheffield – we would be interested to hear about any more before the project closes in November.

Our new research comes as Fields in Trust launches a five-year strategy Green Spaces for Good – including a foreword from the charity’s president, the Duke of Cambridge, who sets out the strategic focus on protecting parks and green spaces for future generations to enjoy.

Our research puts a value on something that doesn’t have a price at the point of entry. You don’t pay to visit your local park or green space – and we want it to stay that way. Yet just because something doesn’t have a price it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a value.

The true value of parks is not what they cost to maintain or could realise as a capital asset if sold for housing – but the wellbeing value that they contribute to the communities who use them for play, sport and recreation.

Our research shows what we all intuitively know; green spaces are good, they do good and they should be protected for good. Our report demonstrates National Health Service savings of at least £111m per year just on prevented GP visits from those who regularly use parks.

This doesn’t include savings from treatment or prescriptions, so actual savings to the taxpayer will be significantly higher. While in the overall NHS budget this is a small percentage, it could pay the salary of 3,500 additional nurses.

The report also calculates that parks and green spaces provide a total economic value to each person in the UK of just over £30 per person per year; this is more for individuals from lower socio-economic groups and also people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

This means that any loss of parks and green spaces will disproportionately impact disadvantaged and under-represented communities – precisely those who value them the most.

With parks and green spaces under threat, it is up to us all to stem this cycle of disappearance and decline. A significant reduction in local council funding has resulted in pressure on parks maintenance.

As a result, friends of parks groups have stepped up to take on volunteer work, some will be litter-picking others organising community activities – and all trying to make their local park a more welcoming and enjoyable place for the local community.

One excellent example of this is the Friends of Sandringham Park in Wetherby – a small group trying to make a big difference, by improving their park. Fields in Trust rewards individuals who support and improve our green spaces. At our annual awards last December Kazia Knight – the driving force behind the Friends of Sandringham Park – was recognised as our Community Champion.

Kazia tirelessly supports her local park, including organising community events throughout the year. Next month, on June 10 a “Big Lunch” event – the UK’s annual get-together for neighbours – will connect local people in Sandringham Park, crucially these events welcome all local people to meet their neighbours in a social setting – parks have the power to connect communities, helping reduce isolation and loneliness. Sadly, not every park has a champion like Kazia and volunteer support cannot replace professional maintenance of parks.

We believe that everyone should have the right to benefit from well-maintained local green spaces. Parks are great value – they cost less to run than the wellbeing value they generate.

They are proven to help people stay physically and mentally well; places where we can all move, breathe, run and play. We need to champion and support our parks and green spaces by protecting them for people to enjoy in perpetuity. Because once lost, they are lost forever.

Helen Griffiths is chief executive of Fields in Trust.