£1.3m health check for Sheffield’s green spaces

  • Department of Landscape awarded £1.3m for study
  • Project will promote green spaces as cost effective ways to boost health
  • Researchers to develop innovative smartphone app

The project will study how people from different neighbourhoods across Sheffield use local parks

New research from the Department of Landscape aims to understand how parks and green spaces throughout Sheffield affect the health and wellbeing of residents in a bid to improve the quality of natural spaces available in cities.

The Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature (IWUN) project has been awarded £1.3m from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to study how people from different neighbourhoods across Sheffield use local parks and how the quality and quantity of available green space impacts their health.

The project, which is being led by the University of Sheffield’s Department of Landscape, brings academics from four universities together with the Wildlife Trusts, Recovery Enterprises and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare.

The three-year study aims to promote the creation of well-designed urban green spaces as cost effective ways to boost mental and physical health in the context of public sector spending cuts.

Project lead Dr Anna Jorgensen said: “this project will develop a more nuanced understanding of the distribution of urban natural environments and health inequalities. We aim to understand the cultures and values that influence how people of different ages and backgrounds interact with the natural environment as well as find out more about which aspects of the natural environment are beneficial for health and wellbeing. The aim is to improve the health and wellbeing of city residents through well designed green spaces.”

The project will promote green spaces as cost effective ways to boost health

Although it is already well known that spending time in natural spaces is good for people, the project will investigate which particular features of green space – their design, location, biodiversity or other features – boost people’s health and personal enjoyment.

The researchers plan to develop a smartphone app to record how people interact with their local parks and green spaces. They are keen to understand the ways in which this is influenced by personal differences such as people’s culture, age and social and economic circumstances.

To determine the ways in which natural environments could play a significant part in the UK’s future healthcare arrangements, the project will also develop a method to measure their cost-effectiveness.

The researchers, from the University of Sheffield, University of Derby, Heriot-Watt University and University of Cardiff will work with the Wildlife Trusts, Recovery Enterprises and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare to influence policy makers and designers, to improve the quality and management of urban green spaces and ensure that residents all over cities are able to benefit from urban nature.

Some of the researchers from the Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature project

Dr Jorgensen added: “this project is a great opportunity to work collaboratively with the health sector and those responsible for the planning, design and management of urban green spaces. We want to make this research as relevant and useful as possible and I’d really like to build relationships with those working in relevant organisations.”

The IWUN project will start on 1 June 2016 and has been funded by the Natural Environment Research Council for three years.

For more information, contact Anna Jorgensen on a.jorgensen@sheffield.ac.uk