Hannah Worthington is Torbay Green Spaces Development Officer for Groundwork South, a charitable organisation that works with local communities to improve their quality of life. Here she reflects on what part Torbay’s Green Spaces play in supporting people to make their communities safer and healthier post-Covid

Westerland Valley Country Park at King’s Ash, Paignton. Photo: Groundwork SouthWesterland Valley Country Park at King’s Ash, Paignton. Photo: Groundwork South

With the Covid-19 lockdown re-affirming the true value of open spaces to our society, there has been lots of talk about how important parks and green spaces are to urban communities.

These spaces play a multitude of roles from mini wildlife havens or slices of heritage to exercise grounds or oases of calm, benefiting local and wider communities.

So, with headlines talking about putting parks at the ‘heart of a green recovery’, capitalising on the £6.6 billion of health, climate change and environmental benefits research has already shown they can deliver each year, at Groundwork South we have been asking ‘how do we ensure green spaces across Torbay continue to benefit local communities?’

Exploring our green spaces helps us connect with our locality and community, and since the start of lockdown there has been an increase in the number of people doing just that.

Groundwork SouthGroundwork South

One example is Westerland Valley in King’s Ash, Paignton, where Groundwork South has been working closely with Torbay Council, local residents and a range of organisations and businesses on a project to develop a new sustainable country park.

A number of Torbay residents have (re)found their way to Westerland over the last few months thanks to social media posts with updates on the project, wildlife sightings and heritage research discoveries - the site was home to two Georgian era reservoirs, breached in 1975.

It’s heartening to see that, having discovered this hidden gem, people are interested helping make it accessible to more members of the community.

Many Torbay residents are already involved in looking after our parks and green spaces through ‘Friends’ groups, as well as volunteer and community groups. They dedicate time, effort and skills to caring for sites ranging from parks, woodlands and cemeteries to allotments, playing fields and nature reserves.

Groundwork is working with Torbay Council to ensure these spaces continue to be cared for; putting in place long-term solutions to support green space groups, both new and existing. The recruitment of a Green Spaces engagement officer in September will further help us directly support groups with training, recruiting volunteers, enhancing resources and opportunities for learning outside the classroom, and more.

It’s encouraging to see the positivity that councillors such as Steve Darling and Darren Cowell have for the work that Groundwork and our partners are doing to promote engagement with green spaces and in supporting groups and communities across the Bay who value and care for them.

Experience shows that where there is an active green space group which is actively supported by the local council or representative, such parks usually become, over time, improved and better used.

Very few would dispute the important role green spaces have played in helping many of us with our health and mental wellbeing, especially since March. They are an essential and unique service providing places for relaxation, recreation and play and attractive walking and cycling routes.

Indeed, spending time in green spaces is now being prescribed by GPs to help with conditions from anxiety and stress to muscular-skeletal problems.

We also know that parks and green spaces have an impact on nature, offering rich habitats for birds, mammals, insects and plant life, providing personal connections with nature close to people’s homes.

It’s these connections that are important in helping develop positive attitudes to nature and the natural world, influencing behaviour that impacts the local and wider environment – from not dropping your litter in the park, to reducing use of plastic, to making lifestyle choices that reduce our carbon footprint.

Our parks, gardens and green spaces are places where we can exercise and socialise; where we can learn and grow – and learn to grow!

Groundwork are running free training courses for Torbay residents wanting to develop their green skills, thanks to funding from the European Social Fund and the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

These short courses aim to help unemployed and inactive adults gain a mix of gardening, horticulture and conservation knowledge and skills, and support them into volunteering, work or education in this area.

We know that through helping even just one person it is possible for the whole community to benefit as skills and knowledge are shared and that one person’s enthusiasm inspires many more to act. Our green spaces offer opportunities for action, activity and achievement across our community.

There is real potential to increase engagement in Torbay’s communities with our parks and green spaces and contribute to ensuring they flourish in the future.

By not playing our part in caring for and enhancing these spaces we neglect the role we all play in helping not just ourselves but the wider community and future generations: Green spaces need us as much as we need them.