Parks are giving many of us a place to escape our screens, desks and houses. Tom Carman reflects on the unexplored uses of parks – what might be on the the park side of the moon – and shares news of a new project that will help communities in Camden and Islington explore potential uses of their local parks.

As we grow older, the way we use parks changes and evolves – from playing on swings and in the sandpit; to kicking a football about; having a sneaky beer with your mates; starting a healthy running workout habit; taking the family for a picnic; going for a mid-day walk; birdwatching; or attending a community fete.

As parks in the UK get older, their uses are being explored and changing too, which is part of Shared Assets interest in the Future Parks Accelerator programme – a group of nine projects across the UK that are finding ways to manage and fund parks and open spaces across entire towns and cities.

There are some fairly stereotypical stories of how parks are currently used – the playground, sport, socialising, family time, fresh air and community uses mentioned above are fairly normal. There’s nothing wrong with these uses, but as we’ve explored in blogs such as this one Why Parks Matter to Racial Justice, not everybody has good access to parks or the potential benefits they bring.

Parks in the future can be a force for good beyond their traditional uses, which is why Shared Assets is particularly pleased to be working with the Islington and Camden Parks for Health project. The councils here are focussing on how parks and green spaces could be used to improve health and wellbeing, and plan to do this by developing closer links to the NHS, health providers, doctors and health charities.

What is important about this work though is firstly knowing what new and alternative uses of parks are possible, and secondly who wants to make them happen. We’ll be exploring the unknown over the next year with Camden and Islington Parks for Health team, using Participatory Network Mapping to paint a picture of how parks are and can be used locally.

We don’t yet know how people may wish to use their parks in alternative ways, but a 2017 House of Commons report explored activities and examined evidence of parks being used in the following ways:

– Recovery following or during illness
– Places where people can connect with people whom they otherwise would not encounter
– A space for people with mental health illness to feel better
– As a place to enhance children’s development
– Where new skills can be learned

We’re really excited about this work in Camden and Islington, and as well as mapping potential uses, will be providing support to local groups to work towards practicing some of the uses identified. As a starting point, we do have a short survey that we are asking park users in certain parts of Camden and Islington to complete to help understand local needs. In the first instance, we are focusing on Belsize, Haverstock, Kentish Town, and Swiss Cottage wards in Camden, and Hillrise, Holloway, Junction and Tollington wards in Islington – so if you live or work in any of these areas, please do take the time to complete, and if you’re interested to find out more about this work feel free to get in touch with us via!

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