Leeds Beckett University
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People and Parks. Understanding the role of communities in improving urban green spaces for health: success factors, challenges and inequality implications

posted on 2024-06-26, 15:26 authored by Jennifer WoodwardJennifer Woodward
Background. This research aimed to explore how Friends Groups work with local authorities and other partners to ensure their local urban green spaces are a well maintained and utilised amenity for public health. Good quality green space, close to where people live, improves health and wellbeing yet, in deprived areas with worse health, there is less access to this health-promoting resource. Improving green space in these areas could help tackle health inequalities. Friends Groups, local people who act together to improve their local green space, are a growing phenomena. There is a lack of evidence however regarding how they develop and are sustained, especially in deprived areas, and whether relying on them contributes to or mitigates against inequality. Methods. This study utilised qualitative methodology, influenced by ethnography. Seven case studies, in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, participated: five established Friends Groups and two developing. Data collection included participant observation, interviews, focus groups, and ‘walk and talks’. Developing group data was collected longitudinally, over three years. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with local authority park staff. Analysis was initially by case to produce narrative accounts, and then cross-case to identify explanatory success factors. Results. A conceptual framework was developed that identifies four domains affecting the success, or otherwise, of Friends Groups: Place, People, Process and Power. Each domain identifies the most pertinent factors influencing group development and sustainability. Leaders play a key role. Commitment, perseverance and motivation are vital whilst being confident, capable, with authority and connections improves chances of success. Place also affected success. Groups operating in informal spaces found it harder to become established than those in traditional parks. Having formal structures, regular activities and in-built sociability helped groups succeed. The relationship between local authorities and Friends Groups was often challenging, with conflict and disagreement leading to frustration and stress. Different perceptions of participation and control contributed to tensions. Parks teams were often unaware of issues relating to inequality. Implications. This study raises concerns that, as the model currently operates, it could exacerbate green space inequalities. Deprived neighbourhoods are less likely to have leaders with the required qualities and connections for success, and parks teams show a preference for working with more capable groups, who are likely to be in more affluent areas. Recommendations centre on supporting Friends Groups in disadvantaged areas to strengthen capabilities and working with local authorities to encourage greater sharing of control.


Qualification name

  • PhD


South, jane ; Julian, rachel

Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


Qualification level

  • Doctoral


  • eng


Leeds Beckett University

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