Evidence Review of Health Benefits of Public Spaces, 2019-2020

Shared Assets worked with partners at Urban Pollinators and the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University to carry out a review into the health benefits of various types of public spaces. This work was done on behalf of The Health Foundation, an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and healthcare for people in the UK, who were interested in identifying areas where better evidence could support better policy and/or practice across the wider determinants of health. In particular, they wanted to explore the scale and impact of the reduction in community assets on people’s health.

The image shows a green park with a small children's playground at the back.
Image credit: Catherine Max

We undertook a rapid evidence review of existing literature, followed by a series of in-depth interviews with experts in green, blue, and other types of public space to fill any gaps in the evidence base, before holding deliberative in-person workshops, in partnership with a relevant community organisation, in three cities (Glasgow,  Sheffield and London), and a final ‘policy forum’ in London to discuss the findings and consider further issues for the Health Foundation’s research work.

At the end of the research, we produced a report for the Health Foundation, which considered green, blue, and built indoor and outdoor public spaces in terms of four ‘affordances’ that each type of space allowed, these being physical activity, social activity, relaxation and rest, and connections with nature. The report concluded with a number of recommendations for future research priorities, emphasising the importance that any such work is practical, holistic, and takes a systemic view.

This original piece of work took place just before COVID-19 and its associated restrictions on access to many public spaces. As such, we were quickly re-commissioned to undertake a follow-up study on the impacts of COVID-19 on the health benefits of public spaces, during which we surveyed and interviewed many of the original research participants, and other stakeholders, to see how things had changed against the backdrop of the pandemic. This work culminated in another internal report for the Health Foundation, and was adapted for a forthcoming academic journal article on nature connections in the UK's lockdown.

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