Breathe easy

Fri 5 April 2019, 9:39 am

With an increasing population, Southwark's green spaces play a crucial part in the wellbeing of residents and workers. And the council is determined to provide more and better facilities. Noella Pio Kivlehan reports

In a 2017 British Journal of Psychology study, authors Jo Barton and Mike Rogerson documented the following in their Importance of Green Space for Mental Health report: “Individuals have less mental distress, less anxiety and depression, greater wellbeing and healthier cortisol profiles when living in urban areas with more green space.”

Southwark Council recognises the importance of these findings. In a borough with a myriad of regeneration projects under way and where the population is expected to grow from 314,000 to around 360,000 over the next 10 years, the need is great for facilities that allow for exercise, socialising and quiet contemplation.

Councillor Rebecca Lury, cabinet member for culture, leisure, equalities and communities at Southwark Council, says: “It is key that you have access to shared spaces, where people can enjoy recreational facilities. This is particularly important in parts of the borough with high population density and more homes with no access to private open space, where parks are crucial. We want people to enjoy green spaces.”

Currently, there are 29 parks in Southwark with Green Flag status, the national standard for well-kept open spaces. The council has created new parks, as well as enhanced existing green space. A new cafe is to open this summer in the 150-year-old Southwark Park, for example, while Burgess Park has benefitted from a multimillion-pound refurbishment project.

Deborah McKenzie, parks policy and programme manager at Southwark Council, explains: “It’s important to have access to open spaces that offer opportunities for formal and informal recreation, sports and encourage all types of physical activity: whether it’s taking a walk or jogging. Sixteen of our parks have gym equipment that allows people to work out for free, which is very popular. The equipment appeals to a range of people, including young adults, who can be difficult to engage in recreational activities.”

More hi-tech play equipment in playgrounds has been more prevalent in recent years, but the traditional still holds sway. McKenzie says: "There is surprisingly little demand for interactive gadgetry and accessible technology in playgrounds. The bigger demand from residents has been towards a more natural play-setting. Many of our playgrounds now have play equipment made using natural materials such as swings and slides from timber frames and logs or rocks for jumping and balancing. The material used is changing. You have more natural looking surfaces.”

There is also more challenging equipment for older children: “Swings and roundabouts are great for children between the ages of three and nine, but nine and 10-year-olds want something more, so we have zip wires and trampolines. Water play is very popular as well,” says McKenzie.

Diversity in the facilities throughout the borough is in evidence: Peckham Rye Park has climbing frames, while St Mary’s Churchyard at Elephant and Castle has a zip wire and trampolines; Leyton Square playground has adventurous play features and Southwark Park facilities include a bowling green and tennis courts.

This is a shortened version of this article. Read the full version in the latest edition of Southwark here.