Greenspace & Us: A community insights project to understand barriers and enablers around access to greenspace for teenage girls in East Oxford.

Published online
10 May 2023
Published by
Natural England
Content type

Cole, S. & Goodenough, J. & Haniff, M. & Hussain, N. & Ibrahim, S. & Jani, A. & Jiggens, E. & Khan, A. & Langford, P. & Moore, L. & Montgomery, L. & Rowe, R. & Skinner, S.

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Avenue Appia 20, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland World Health Organization = Organisation mondiale de la Santé County Hall, Spetchley Road, Worcester, WR5 2NP, United Kingdom Access to greenspace and connection with nature are key determinants of physical and mental wellbeing. Yet some groups face significant barriers to access, many of which are poorly understood. Nature connection and time spent in greenspace both drop significantly in early adolescence. Teenage girls are less physically active than their male counterparts and are at particularly high risk of poor mental wellbeing. Greenspace & Us is a community insights partnership project that used participatory and creative approaches to understand the barriers and enablers influencing access to greenspace for young women in East Oxford. Key insights questions that the project sought to understand were: * How do young women currently use greenspace and to what extent does this meet their needs? * Which barriers and enablers influence young women's access to, engagement and connection with greenspace and nature? Learnings of the current use of and general attitudes towards greenspace include: * Young people are unlikely to choose to spend time in greenspaces * Young people infrequently visit more natural greenspaces * Young women characterise greenspace as social, rather than active environments * A disconnect between the theoretical mental wellbeing benefits of greenspace and young women's lived experience * Young people understand the importance of protecting greenspaces * The project identified large disparities in the distribution of space and provision of equipment and facilities in local parks and other greenspaces to meet different needs - resulting in 'male dominated' spaces where young women and girls feel unwelcome and sometimes unsafe. Young women put significant energy into developing the Greenspace & Us Manifesto, which clearly outlines the changes they see necessary to improve their access to greenspace. Manifesto statements included the desire to have opportunities to learn about greenspace and nature; to have access to necessary infrastructure to meet basic needs (including clean toilets, natural features, shelter and appropriate seating); and for young people to be consulted on local greenspace developments. Reflecting on the need to support young women to take their daily routine outside, participants also developed a prototype table and shelter combination as an example of the type of park furniture that would allow them to socialise and study in greenspaces. This is currently being professionally designed and built, with a view to the final piece being installed in the East Oxford recreation ground that was the subject of the 'greenspace walkabout'. In addition to the Greenspace & Us Manifesto, key principles and recommendations are drawn from analysis of identified behavioural factors, and are designed to improve young women's capability, opportunity and motivation to engage with local greenspaces. Whilst some issues have relatively 'easy fixes', others are more complex, requiring focused attention and partnership working between a wide range of stakeholders. Thus, recommendations are not aimed at any one organisation or sector alone but highlight general approaches necessary to address this important determinant of health and wellbeing. Key principles in improving access to greenspace for young women: * Prioritise equity in decision-making * Ensure meaningful co-production * Take safety concerns seriously * Make nature normal * Recognise the right to play * Deliver connected greenspaces Recommendations: 1. Integrate greenspace access into routines of young people and young women specifically, e.g., take youthwork, school, creative activities, or sports outside. 2. Promote opportunities for young women to discuss their relationship with greenspace, to develop and amplify their own narratives around what it means to connect with nature, and to build a sense of ownership over local greenspace. 3. Ensure adequate funding for free/low-cost women's only activities in greenspace - both sporting and social. 4. Work with young women's groups to co-design areas and sports facilities in local greenspaces specifically to meet their needs - considering the potential for women only spaces where possible. 5. Ensure adequate access to information that allows young people to find out about their local greenspaces and related social opportunities. E.g., through school, youth work, web resources, maps or welcoming/ engaging signage. 6. Carefully consider the inclusion of greenspaces when planning affordable public transport or active travel networks and ensure that these are linked to key places of interest for young people. 7. Prioritise the development of greenspaces that are close to secondary schools or other places of significant interest to young women. 8. Take advantage of interest in spending time in outdoor spaces in urban centres by creating opportunities for young people to engage with natural features whilst meeting other social needs outdoors. 9. Explore the root causes of anti-social behaviour in specific greenspaces, seeking the opinion of young women to identify hotspots and potential solutions. 10. Invest in the maintenance of existing greenspaces to ensure that basic needs are met (clean toilets, water, seating, and shelter as a minimum) and to reduce opportunities for anti-social behaviour. 11. Ensure that greenspaces, particularly those in residential areas and close to secondary schools, provide age-appropriate equipment and offer opportunities for adventurous and nature-based play for older children and teenagers. 12. Offer safe, quiet spaces for girls to spend time together, participate in social and creative activities, and enjoy the natural environment. Areas should include facilities that support the specific social needs of young women and be separated from other areas but maintain visibility and perception of safety. 13. Actively welcome young people into natural spaces by providing adequate information, signage, and age-appropriate activities.

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