Over the last year we have been working with stakeholders in Sheffield to identify actions that can be taken in green and natural spaces to improve mental wellbeing.
Working from existing academic research, from our own emerging findings and from workshops, focus groups and interviews with stakeholders, we listed 35 possible interventions under the headings of ‘making’ (capital investment in existing or new spaces); ‘keeping’ (maintenance and support); and ‘prescribing’ (social and healthcare interventions).
Through our consultation we settled on five interventions that had broad support across a wide range of stakeholders, from health professionals to planners and community volunteers. These are replicable, adaptable ways to maximise wellbeing for a wide variety of users and enhance inclusion and equality in urban green spaces. They can be tailored to a wide range of public urban green space and most potential users. They are:
Support voluntary and community organisations to animate green spaces. This provides connections with marginalised communities in deprived areas; links people who do not usually use green spaces with the natural environment; and provides opportunities to create new nature connections through organised activities. It offers supportive environments for people with depression or anxiety.
Set and maintain a minimum standard of regular, sustained maintenance. This encourages repeated and regular visits. It reduces fear and insecurity. It encourages connections with the natural world and supports the restorative effects of greenspace.
Improved access to green spaces, including walking and cycling routes. This has the potential to increase both the number and variety of greenspace users, and to increase incidental nature connections by greening routes to and from green destinations. It relieves stress through walking, cycling and avoiding heavy traffic.
New or upgraded toilets and cafés in parks and woodlands. This creates more inclusive and welcoming green environments, especially for people with mobility difficulties or who may be socially isolated. It provides a reason for visiting green space and connecting with urban nature. It supports sociability and cohesion, addressing loneliness and depression.
Employ parks staff to encourage outdoor activities and volunteering. This provides a sense of security; mediates between user groups; and encourages connections with places and repeated visits. It helps to address the fear of going out, especially among people suffering from isolation and depression.