IWUN- Valuing Urban Nature

IWUN is a ground-breaking project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council to explore the links between natural environments in urban settings and mental wellbeing. It is led by a team in the Department of Landscape at the University of Sheffield, along with colleagues in the University of Derby and Herriot-Watt University, and a range of practice partners.

The central aim of the research project is to find out how Sheffield’s natural environment affects the health and wellbeing of the city’s residents, especially of those in deprived areas and who suffer from mental ill-health. This includes researching the links between biodiversity and wellbeing, how people experience urban nature, what kind of spaces they find helpful and what actions will best strengthen those links. The project would also like to understand how the benefits of nature can be used more efficiently in clinical practice.

The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare’s (CSH) role in the project is to provide our expertise and advice from having worked at the interface of greenspace and health for the last 10 years and to publicise the results from the project through our clinical networks and events. We have also contributed to the running of the national IWUN conference and the focus group which will determine clinician’s thoughts of natural spaces and wellbeing, how best to engage their patients in using them, what information from the research project is useful and how it can be publicised to ensure that there is maximum uptake by medical staff. 

Part of the project involved the development of an app by the University of Derby and Sheffield which prompted users to notice nature when entering  greenspace within the city of Sheffield. It allowed users to record the ‘good things in nature’, rate their current location, and nature whilst noting perceived levels of biodiversity. It also recordsd users’ journeys, locations and the duration of stay in urban greenspaces, thereby allowing exposure to different types of natural environments to be logged. An additional benefit of the app is that it encourages the user to take time to notice and enjoy local nature, following many of the principles recommended in mindfulness. Results from the research project were positive, demonstrating that users of the app found a positive improvement to their mental wellbeing. Analysis of the app data demonstrated that noticing the good things in urban nature matters as it brings improvements to mental health, and that biodiversity is also important to users’ sense of wellbeing. These results point towards the beneficial impact of urban greenspaces and indicate that the app is a useful way of measuring this.  This is encouraging for health practitioners looking to recommend apps as ways to improve lifestyle behaviours. CSH are now working with Furthermore and University of Derby to look at ways to develop their app for clinical purpose. 

A further finding of the research project has been the need for more GPs to prescribe the use of greenspaces when advising patients to take part in social prescribing activities. We have developed a 1 pager to help promote the evidence and facilitate the process, sharing the documents widely amongst our GP contacts and networks but also with a group of Sheffield GPs who are focused on green activities. Further details of this document can be accesssed below.