Green shoots of co-production

May 26, 2020

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by Lauren Pennycook, Senior Policy and Development Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

The Carnegie UK Trust works to improve personal, community and societal wellbeing. Many of the issues that we work on, and the partners and groups who we work with, are deeply affected by the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing a series of blogs with reflections and questions across these different aspects of wellbeing. We are interested in learning from others, so please get in touch to share your reflections on how communities, networks and organisations are responding.

Daily exercise – a walk, run, or jog – has been one of the few luxuries afforded to citizens across the UK and Ireland since lockdown began. But with such indisputable mental and physical health benefits, is access to greenspaces for daily exercise – a cycle, a scoot, or a skip – really a luxury? Or is it a necessity, but one which requires robust evidence, leadership, and insight in return for investment?

Even prior to the pandemic, it was widely accepted that access to good quality greenspace is invaluable. It is in frameworks of how we measure our national success; it is the subject of campaigns; and it unites academia with the average citizen. But how can the value experienced by individual citizens be reconciled with value in public services? How can the benefits to our mental wellbeing of a walk in a well-maintained local park be acknowledged and accounted for in public policy?

Derry City and Strabane District Council, one of the Carnegie UK Trust’s Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland project participants, is demonstrating leadership on this issue by expressing the benefit provided by access to greenspace in monetary terms. As the first local authority in Northern Ireland to develop a Green Infrastructure Plan and associated Action Plan, it is an innovator in investing, through the Trust, in determining the economic value of green and blue public spaces for mental wellbeing; physical health; local recreation; and carbon sequestration.

The result? A Natural Capital Account with key findings which will accelerate investment in green and blue spaces up the public policy agenda. The total annual benefit that local authority-owned greenspaces provide to citizens? £75 million – £500 per adult, each year. The return on council greenspace maintenance and investment? £22 for every £1 spent. And the sum residents in Derry and Strabane are willing to pay per year to live near greenspaces? £2 million.

To be clear, this is not about monetising our greenspaces, it is about informing our policymakers. It is about addressing that which we historically could not measure, and as a result, have often failed to treasure in public policy terms. It is about helping to make the leap from the experience of the individual citizen to collective strategy.

And collective strategy is why the Trust has invested in the development of the Natural Capital Account – it supports the two project themes of co-production and shared leadership. Demonstrating the value of greenspace will help to encourage co-production among key stakeholders to deliver shared wellbeing outcomes at all levels – from local Community Plans to the Northern Ireland Executive’s Programme for Government. Community Planning is a policy vehicle well-placed to co-produce data, evidence, and, in turn, public services, with seemingly diverse statutory partners including the Public Health Agency, SportNI, and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, all coalescing around common outcomes.

But it is only the beginning. The health, social and environmental outcomes which can be achieved by investment in green and blue spaces are shared within and outwith Community Planning structures – by communities, businesses, and other tiers of government. And so with new data comes new opportunities – to re-engage with those outwith formal partnerships; to align budgets to outcomes; and to encourage partnership working between tiers of government, sectors, and silos. And with new insights from the COVID-19 pandemic comes new responsibilities – to work together to address inequalities in access to good quality greenspaces across rural, urban, demography and relative deprivation.

Because, just like responding to the pandemic, no-one can do it alone. No one organisation; partnership structure; or level of government. Instead, where we find lynchpins of success, we need to back these financially; build; and bring in unusual friends with common goals. Only by working in partnership and co-producing public services will we see the green shoots of success in achieving common wellbeing outcomes.

So as we reconsider how we live, work and travel after the pandemic has passed, public parks must not just be praised for how they helped us during this challenging time. Access to well-maintained, good quality greenspace must be an instrumental to how we build back better.