Peaceful Paths

Natural environments are increasingly being associated with enhancing public health and wellbeing. From a psychological perspective, improvements in mood, self-esteem, energy and vitality, are emphasised as outcomes from nature experiences that allow our brains to rest and recover, resulting in restoration, and relaxation. Increased exposure to nature has also been shown to improve outcomes across a range of mental and physical health conditions, including anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke, diabetes, cancer and dementia.

 

What additionally has long been recognised is the power of group activities on improving social wellbeing. Most usual activities found in the countryside, in public parks and other types of community areas and greenspaces,  such as group walks, volunteering, and engaging in arts and crafts activities hold the potential, particularly when worked around specific support groups such as Stepping into Nature,  to create supportive networking systems for those living with long-term illness or chronic disease.  We also recognise that for the carers of these groups, their needs and sense of wellbeing could also be enhanced and by extension, potentially through encouraging increased access to greenspaces, designed fit-for-purpose, may well provide for a preventative measure against the onslaught of chronic disease for the wider community.

 

Peaceful Paths & Sitting Spots, has been created specifically to work with authorities, community groups and people living with a long-term illness or chronic disease, in enhancing their experiences in the countryside, in rural and urban public parks and in a range of greenspaces, small and large, in Dorset.

Many studies and programmes previously undertaken, have primarily captured the experiences of the physically and mentally able.  Other projects have focused on providing for sensory experiences in greenspaces.

 

Few, however, have specifically focused on understanding how greenspaces are experienced by those facing a long-term illness or chronic disease.  Based on personal experience and informed by our research, the views of these two groups in our communities, their expectations, perceptions and needs, will invariably be very different to those classed as more able.

Based on our previous research, our insights have led us to question just how might not only an individuals’ expectations of greenspaces differ amongst these groups but how might their needs and expectations of a space, path or recreational area used to engage these groups with a natural environment, be designed to enhance their wellbeing experiences?

For the vast majority of people taking part in our research over the last 6 years, vast open spaces, no man-made infrastructure or even the presence of other people, are key variables cited by people as contributing to their sense of peacefulness in the Dorset AONB.  Conversely for other key groups in our societies such as the elderly, lesser abled, and chronically ill, the very notion of an open vast space may be anything but tranquil if not even unnerving and potentially encourage a greater sense of vulnerability not least due to distances from facilities, lack of seating, sheltered areas or simply being out of range of any communication facilities. Our research has shown that overwhelmingly, peace and/or state of mind is a major factor cited by all participants as fundamental to how tranquil or otherwise an experience might actually be in green spaces of all types. 

 

Should through the Peaceful Paths project, we determine distinctions amongst these groups, we will be able to provide evidence to authorities on the inclusive design and appropriation of greenspaces, walking routes, GI and sitting spots required to enable greater access of these spaces for those less able and their carers: the timing of this study is critical to progress during 2019 and 2020 mindful of revisions forthcoming to the Local Plan being progressed in 2021.

As a very recent and exciting addition to our research on this project…

 

We are additionally delighted to announce that as part of this research study we will be testing the use of microbiome research in evaluating the effects of public access to greenspaces on their health and wellbeing.  This collaboration amongst University of Winchester and the Universities of Adelaide and Flinders, Australia marks an exciting first-in-the-field study and results from our vision of piloting a far wider study planned for later this year, 2020, that will evaluate health and wellbeing properties of landscapes.

 

For more information on this project please contact Denise.hewlett@winchester.ac.uk