Fair, Green and Well: New report from Groundwork

The latest report by Groundwork sets out the connections between health inequalities and environmental impacts and calls on local and national decision-makers to join forces in a bid to tackle the public health and climate crises in tandem.

The ‘Fair, Green and Well: tackling health inequalities through environmental action’ report puts forward the case that the quality of the local environment is inseparable from our health, with inequalities in the environment – such as different levels of air pollution, fuel poverty and access to nature – being a key driver for health inequalities.

The report quotes statistics showing that people living in the most affluent areas of the country can expect to enjoy good health for almost two decades longer than people living in the most deprived areas and sets out how this is impacted by environmental factors such as climate change, air pollution, access to nature, energy efficiency and the local food environment.

However, new research from Groundwork shows that these measures to tackle this are not consistently being included in local health and wellbeing strategies – despite the majority of councils having declared climate emergencies – with the data showing only:

  • 39% mention climate change
  • 43% mention the food environment
  • 48% mention fuel poverty
  • 54% mention air quality 
  • 71% mention green space or the natural environment

Action to improve the local environment is a crucial component of efforts to reduce health inequalities. Many of the measures that we need to take to tackle climate change and nature loss – cleaner air, more energy efficient homes, more nature in our towns and cities, community food growing – will bring huge benefits for health and wellbeing in the communities worst affected.

The relationship between the health of our environment and our own wellbeing has been established for a long time. What’s becoming more apparent now is the connection between the climate and nature crises and worsening health inequalities. This is a major challenge, but also a significant opportunity for policymakers and commissioners to adopt a coordinated approach. 

Many of the solutions are well-known to us: regenerating neighbourhoods and town centres so that they enable active lifestyles; addressing the scourge of damp, dangerous homes by ramping up retrofit; and ensuring those who need it most are better able to enjoy the restorative benefits of being connected to nature. Making this the norm means ensuring the right people are feeding into local health and wellbeing plans and ensuring this is backed up by a joined-up national policy framework.

Graham Duxbury, Groundwork’s UK Chief Executive

The importance of nature-based solutions

Groundwork has worked in communities for over 40 years to support local people to take positive social action on community and environmental issues so that local communities can thrive.

Groundwork’s Natural Neighbourhoods programme demonstrated the potential for urban green spaces to play an important role in addressing the climate and nature emergency, while showing how involving local people can help promote improved health and wellbeing and nature connectedness.

Groundwork’s community hubs – places that provide a focus for a range of practical volunteering – provide a strong base for addressing some of the issues and show that making green space a central component of their purpose can improve both mental and physical health and stimulate a greater appetite for action on climate change and biodiversity loss.

Grozone in Cheshire hosts open sessions three days a week for visitors and volunteers and caters for people of all ages and abilities, offering opportunities to meet new people or enjoy the benefits of being outdoors. 

The hub grows fresh fruit and vegetables and has it’s own orchard, wildflower meadow and pond. There is also an outdoor kitchen that helps people learn more about healthy cooking options and using homegrown ingredients. Opportunities for regular volunteering and interaction is a lifeline for many people, with the hub playing a key role in supporting both physical and mental wellbeing of those who go along.

Roy was encouraged by his daughter to volunteer at Grozone after his wife of 46 years, Carole, passed away and he was left feeling lost for what to do with his time. He says that being outdoors, gardening and helping others kept him busy and helped him to cope whilst continuing to grieve the loss of his wife.

Carole and I had always enjoyed gardening together, so I called in at Grozone and I loved it. The hardest part was taking the first step. I didn’t know what to expect, or what was expected of me. But everyone was so nice, and it didn’t matter how much gardening experience you had. Keeping busy kept my mind occupied. Some people come to Grozone and prefer to work all day like me, others just pop in for a cup of tea and a chat. As long as you go away having benefitted from spending time there, that’s all that matters.

Roy, Grozone volunteer

Groundwork has continued to develop the community hub model via the Northern Network programme, a new community of people and projects involved in the set-up and running of shared green spaces.

The project aims to use its extensive experience, connections and research to build a thriving network of Green Community Hubs across the North of England.

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