Being active outdoors is more popular than ever - but not for all

Posted: Mon, 15 Feb 2021 09:05

Being active outdoors is more popular than ever - but not for all

Greenspace, such as parks, woodland, fields and allotments as well as natural elements including green walls, roofs and incidental vegetation, are increasingly being recognised as an important asset for supporting health and wellbeing. This 'natural capital' can help address local issues that they face, including improving health and wellbeing, managing health and social care costs, reducing health inequalities, improving social cohesion and taking positive action to address climate change.

It is becoming increasingly clear that time spent in 'blue space' – near water – may also improve our mental and physical health. Blue space includes the sea, coastlines, rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls and fountains.

The growth of online communities, informal sports, flash-fitness and natural fitness have all helped encourage outdoor physical activity

Opportunities to take part as an individual or an informal group, at any time of the day or week, frequently or infrequently, have all contributed to increased interest in engaging in outdoor activities

There are a wide variety of demographic, social, urbanisation, political and trend-related reasons why outdoor recreation and activities have enjoyed an increase in interest including growth in outdoor activity tourism, an increase in the number of outdoors mass participation events and an overall growth in revenue sales across the outdoors commercial sector.

The outdoor must

  • be accessible – provide greenspace that is safe, easy and convenient to access for the whole community
  • enhance amenity – greenspace is of good quality, appropriate to local need and allows a range of activities Improving access to greenspace

increase awareness – the design and layout raise prominence and awareness of opportunities to be active

However, not all groups in society engage with parks and green/blue spaces. These groups are often those less active and experience a range of health inequalities.

Does the design of parks and green spaces alienate and exclude some groups? Does the design of traditional sport and outdoor recreation in these spaces perpetuate the problem?

Traditional outdoors participation is often considered to take place in rural settings, accessed by white, middle class, car-owning people or families doing traditional 'outdoors' activities.

To a certain extent, current participation in the outdoors is reflective of this stereotype.

However, the landscape is changing and there are several key trends that need to be considered in order to drive growth in outdoors activity.

Interventions need to take into consideration the interactions between barriers and should aim to address multiple barriers simultaneously.

Social connections are central to many peoples' engagement in outdoor recreation.

Interventions with a social element, like walking groups, may offer a more resilient basis for outdoor recreation since members can come and go whilst the continuity of the group is retained. The life history analysis revealed that many of the moments of change described by participants relate to changes in social networks and social capital, suggesting that outdoor recreation practices are vulnerable to disruption as a result of such changes.

Therefore, interventions may benefit from positioning themselves more in terms of social benefits than physical activity.

It may be useful to increase communication and integration between existing groups running in parallel in local areas. For example, producing joint marketing information about the different local walking groups operating at different levels of difficulty could help raise awareness and participation.

It may be useful to tailor interventions to suit people of different abilities and preferences and to clearly advertise the interventions as such. There may be value in considering single sex groups or 'quiet walking groups' for example. We acknowledge that this may be constrained by the availability of volunteer leaders.

The finding that most participants were satisfied with or accepting of their current level of participation suggests that addressing the barriers to outdoor recreation may not be enough and highlights the importance of actively encouraging greater uptake in this group (e.g. through green/social prescriptions).

Great and growing interest in being active in the outdoors

  • 8.9m people in the UK are currently active outdoors
  • Of these 2.8m want to do more
  • 27.6% of the total active population are active outdors

18.2m not currently not active want to engage and participate in the outdoors in the next 12 months
(Sport England/Outdoor Industries Association)

Post Covid-19, this context also creates an opportunity to put parks and green/blue spaces at the forefront of thinking about how we emerge from the pandemic stronger; making the most out of our green and blue infrastructure.

We also appreciate that budgets for the sector have seen a steep decline and there is increasing pressure for managers to deal with an increasing number of visitors and smaller budgets. As a result, often time and resources spent on income generation, marketing, community engagement and customer services are limited.

There are many challenges and opportunities for the outdoor

  • How can we raise the profile of green/ blue space and co-create solutions across sectors?
  • How to connect with and attract under-represented groups by working with Community Connectors and engaging with new partners across the community
  • How to use digital communication to excite potential visitors and users about the great experiences and benefits visits can bring and to give them a few tips of the expected behaviour
  • How to developing environmentally and sustainable, income-generating events that will also attract new users and visitors
  • Engaging with new, young digitally-savvy volunteers who can also bring new ideas and connections to the sector

Welcoming and enterprising parks and green/blue spaces webinars and conference

Nature Nurture and the Sports Marketing Network are jointly organising four webinars and aconference on how to develop the Natural Health Service – an innovative collaboration focusing on what the great outdoors can do for our bodies and minds.

#MoreThanAPark #OutdoorEnterprise

This webinar series and conference will provide you with thoughts, tools to-dos to develop vibrant, visible and viable green and blue spaces for the whole community.

Tags: Featured, community sport, sport england


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