New study examines access & use of greenspaces and the countryside by diverse communities

Wed 20 March, 2024
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Researchers from the University of Bedfordshire and the Chilterns National Landscape have released the results of the largest UK study on how diverse communities engage with greenspaces and the countryside.

The study, focusing on Luton and Dunstable, found that only around 33% of participants visited greenspaces weekly. Older individuals, those facing deprivation, and people from minority ethnic backgrounds were revealed to be the least frequent users.

The research was commissioned by the Chilterns National Landscape with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and involved 14 focus groups, nine interviews with community representatives, and a community survey generating 906 responses – making it one of the most extensive studies in the UK on greenspace accessibility.

Key findings included a limited awareness of greenspaces and the countryside, and barriers including a lack of essential facilities, concerns about racism and discrimination, anxieties about unleashed dogs, and worries about the costs and availability of transport.

Professor Nasreen Ali, Professor of Public Health Equality at the University of Bedfordshire, led the study. She said: “We used our Talk, Listen, Change ethnographic approach to engage with our communities of interest, in which face-to-face interviews enabled us to better understand how individuals and societies’ function.”

The Chilterns National Landscape served as the study's backdrop, covering over 833 square kilometres and providing a range of opportunities for recreation and relaxation. However, despite its proximity to ethnically diverse communities, the study revealed lower engagement from these groups.

Professor Gurch Randhawa, Director of the Institute for Health Research at Bedfordshire, added: “We recommend developing and delivering a Collaborative Targeted Outreach Programme for improving access to greenspaces and the Chilterns countryside. Working with diverse communities, and religious organisations, we want to co-create ways to increase access for underrepresented groups to greenspaces and the Chilterns countryside.”

Dr Elaine King, CEO at the Chilterns National Landscape, spoke about the study’s findings and emphasised the need for inclusive access to the Chilterns landscape.

She said: “The Chilterns is a very special landscape, and everyone should be able to access and enjoy all that it has to offer. At a time when so many inequalities exist in society, the results of this study provide an opportunity to improve both people’s enjoyment of the countryside, and the positive effects it can have on their health and wellbeing.”

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