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Opinion: Working together - how local authority parks and health teams can tackle community health

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Opinion: Working together - how local authority parks and health teams can tackle community health

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Communities

Park Park

By Michael Hoenigmann, managing director, Proludic

Public health transferred to local government in April 2013 and since then great efforts have been made by local authorities and health teams to tackle the wider social and economic factors of poor health.

For people to lead healthier lives, they need to be in a healthy environment. The places where they live, work and play should encourage wellness, this includes at home, in schools, at the office, in parks and on the streets.

Outdoor play equipment in parks

Parks have played an important part in community life since Victorian times and are needed now more than ever before as space becomes more of a premium within housing developments and we develop increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

The more well-kept parks are, the more likely they are to be used for physical activity which will have great impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing.

However, there are large differences in the provision and accessibility of green space between local authorities. Deprived areas have significantly less high quality, green space than affluent areas and people are more likely to avoid green spaces in these areas due to worries about crime and safety or because of anti-social behaviour.

What can local authorities and health services do to improve green space?

Local Authorities and health teams need to work together to improve the provision of high quality, local, accessible and safe green space. This has been recommended by organisations including The Design Council, which champions great design that improves lives, in particular with its new initiative called 'Active By Design'.

The initiative is the council’s response to the current major health crisis facing the UK, caused by people’s very low levels of activity, and lack of access to healthy food.

Studies carried out by Proludic examining community activity levels before and after investment in facilities at two outdoor play sites in Bracknell and Watford showed a significant impact from that investment.

86% of local residents reported that the investment had increased how likely they were to visit the park for play or exercise, the average number of monthly visits to the park for play or exercise rose from 2.2 to 11.4. 81% of local residents said that the equipment increased the length of time they stayed at the park for play or exercise and the average length of time spent playing or exercising on each visit increased from 12 minutes to 26 minutes. 9% of people spent at least an hour playing or exercising on an average visit.

We also assisted Hounslow Council to transform play areas across the borough. We worked with local councils and health services to develop and transform green space, producing three new sites as part of an investment programme to fully equip parks with the best of play equipment for the Hounslow area.

Hounslow Borough Council specifically chose Proludic, as it has the RoSPA 5 star award and has the ability to create bespoke designs that relate to the surrounding community. This is particularly evident at the Kingsley Road Recreational Ground, which has been designed to include the nearby London underground station with a clear ‘Mind The Gap’ theme.

How can teams continue to improve community health post 2014?

Local authorities have ample experience of the reality of health inequalities in their communities. They are able to take action to prevent inequalities across a number of functions, specifically. By working closely with health services they are well placed to bring health inequalities considerations to bear across the whole of the authority’s business, and to think strategically about how to drive reductions in health inequalities, working closely with the NHS and other partners.

The next challenge for local authorities is to leverage even more partnerships to tackle public health issues by looking at problems such as crime reduction and violence prevention, which all have a knock-on effect on community health.

To find out more and for the full study results, visit www.proludic.co.uk.

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