The current crisis created by COVID-19 has forced us all to think deeply about what we value in our everyday lives and when push comes to shove, our own health and the health of our families comes into sharp focus. Perhaps therefore it’s about time that the rich health benefits that local government parks services bring to society receive much greater appreciation.
A huge emphasis has been placed by UK Governments during lockdown on focusing on the publics’ physical health and mental well-being. Local authority parks services have demonstrated, throughout the current crisis that they have been at the forefront of public health for local people and have an intrinsic part to play in the short and long-term recovery of local communities. The return on investment, by local and national governments, in parks services is colossal.
Over the past few months many have turned to parks as their daily release from the pressures of lockdown, not only to provide some peace and tranquillity in the fresh air, but to also give them their much-needed daily exercise, boosting their immune system in the process. Much has been made of a potential obesity crisis fuelled by the recent period of inactivity, however parks have helped mitigate against this and can continue to do so, by supporting active lifestyles.
In a time where society could easily become polarised and divided they also create a great space for society to mix and integrate in so many ways. They contribute hugely to quality of life by building social fabric, they make places attractive for inward investment, helping support vibrant economies and sustainable communities.
Parks not only provide places for the young to play but they also contribute at the other end of the spectrum of life, helping to combat loneliness and isolation amongst the elderly, which keeps people out of the care system for longer, and delays the significant associated costs to society.
Of course, all of these benefits require public funding, but the multiple benefits parks bring to society make them one of the best long term investments Governments can make. Parks are an important part of the nations’ recovery, they promote public health and cut future costs through ill-health prevention. When the current crisis is over it shouldn’t be forgotten that parks were core to everyday life for so many people when they needed them most. By investing in them further, society will reap long term rewards.