Green space and health

One of our key areas of expertise is the interface between green space and health from programmes on the ground to strategic work at national level. In relation to the four principles of sustainable healthcare, the natural environment contributes to prevention through increasing physical and mental wellbeing and offers people therapeutic benefits for recovery from illness. 

The first of our programmes in this area is the NHS Forest, a national programme to increase the quality and use of green space on or near to healthcare estates for staff, patients and the local community to use for exercise, rest and relaxation. Natural environments have enormous benefits for people’s wellbeing as evidenced by many research studies. For example, hospital patients who have a view of trees from their window have been shown to recover more quickly and to need fewer painkillers than similar patients who can’t see trees from their beds.

CSH ran a three year Lottery funded project between 2010 and 2013 focusing on in-depth community engagement with University Hospital, Coventry and St Catherine’s Hospital, Doncaster. University Hospital Coventry, replaced a destitute area with a beautiful new nature reserve featuring local apple varieties, a pond platform and even an otter holt involving school children, hospital patient groups and staff in the project. The site features in a short film: A key focus of the project at St Catherine’s hospital was to target ‘hard to reach’ group and to reduce barriers, both physical and perceived, between the local community and the services users. Consequently, a key element of this project was to involve the hospital’s service users in skill-building activities including horticulture, pathway construction and teamwork alongside other community members. The volunteer coordinator summed up the impact of the project:

“This was a fabulous project to work on. The volunteers really enjoyed working on the site with the staff and patients from the hospital and we’ve had great feedback from locals regarding the better access to the woodland.”

In recent years we have begun setting up Green Health Routes in both Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire with more in the pipeline. Our Green Health Routes create a walking trail from a GP surgery linked to areas of green space to encourage local people to get outside and use and enjoy their local area. The route also enables local GPs to prescribe exercise to their patients via ‘green prescriptions’. 

We have been working with Public Health Teams, Clinical Commissioning Groups, countywide green space teams and third sector parties to run workshops and provide a consultancy service to enable green space projects to be used by the local communities to meet the health priorities of the local area. So far we have worked with teams in Cambridge, Bradford, Oxford and Bedfordshire. In addition to the workshops, some of the outputs have included a GP one pager and a paper outlining the different methods that can be used to measure physical and mental health benefits. Feedback from these events has been very positive:

“As a result of the Nature and Health workshop, a "Naturally Healthy Working Group" has been set up to take forward the development of a project that demonstrates the benefits of the natural environment for providing a cost-effective 'natural service’ for the prevention and treatment of people with physical/mental health conditions,”
Phil Clarke, Community Green Spaces Manager, Cambridgeshire County Council. 

For more information about the format of a workshop please click here. Please contact us if you would like us to run a workshop in your local area. These activities contribute to our aim of increasing the number of people using the natural environment for health prevention and recuperation.

We have also been working on a number of research projects, facilitiating the promotion of the resarch projects to health professionals, where appropriate. One of these projects has been the Valuing Urban Nature - IWUN project with the University of Sheffield. 

CSH staff are also members of national bodies, such as the Green Infrastructure Programme, Natural England Outdoors for All Working Group, serve as Health Ambassadors on the national Ecosystems Knowledge Network and feed into government white papers and working groups. At regional and local levels, we link into Local Nature Partnerships and various NHS bodies.