May 7, 2014
The healing power of parkland
Greenspaces, often referred to as the green lungs of our towns and cities, are widely recognised as being crucial to the mental and physical wellbeing of those who use them. There is much more to greenspace than just some open ground with grass and a few trees for folk to walk through. With a bit of careful stewardship and investment something very special can be created which becomes a vital community asset. Cassiltoun Housing Association based in the heart of Castlemilk have led an initiative to restore a former parkland and the community are reaping the benefits.
For more information on Castlemilk Woodlands click here
Although the past twenty years has seen a signiﬁcant regeneration of the built environment of Castlemilk, the woodlands which run through the heart of this community have not received the same attention. Since 2010, Cassiltoun Housing Association has led a multi-agency approach which has transformed the woodlands from a no-go area into a green space that brings important health, environmental, social and economic beneﬁts to the local community.
Castlemilk Woodlands cover an area of 30 hectares located around a densely populated housing scheme on the periphery of Glasgow. 13,500 people live in Castlemilk and there is a remarkable concentration of deprivation in this area with 9 of the 16 datazones that make up the area falling within the bottom 5% of Scotland’s most deprived datazones.
Unemployment is high and around 3,500 local people claim beneﬁts, this represents some 39% of the working age population (more than twice the Scottish average). Well over half of these people are in receipt of incapacity or disability beneﬁ ts.
Coronary heart disease is a particular local issue and the area also has above average incidence of hospital admissions for cancer, respiratory disease and drug missuse problems. It is estimated that some 1,732 local residents are being prescribed drugs for anxiety, depression or psychosis. This equates to 13% of the local population, considerably higher than the 8% national average.
Statistics also reveal that lack of educational attainment is a local issue, as only 8% of local school children go on to higher education, compared to 29% in Glasgow as a whole.
It was recognised that, as a local greenspace, Castlemilk Woodlands could play a vital role in improving the social, economic and environmental fabric of the area.
A multi-agency partnership was established in 2010 led by Cassiltoun Housing Association with the ambition to provide physical greenspace improvements and to improve and enhance opportunities for people to engage with and use the woodlands to improve their own lives.
The project seeks to deliver on the Scottish Government’s targets to increase employment opportunities, improve health, create a greener community and enhance better life styles and choices.
What it did
By proactively addressing local issues and challenges the project is developing a greenspace asset for the local community. It delivers this by opening up access and increasing opportunities for the community to engage with the woodlands. This helps to break the spiral of decline created through years of neglect and anti-social activity. A website and promotional resources, including a user-friendly map, have been created. These have been successful in inspiring and encouraging local people to discover the greenspace on their doorstep.
The project works to improve local physical health and mental well-being through hosting and promoting a range of programmes and events including, the successful ‘Branching Out’ programme, the ‘Go Play’ childrens’ project, frequent evening health walks and a monthly Cup of Tea in the Park.
With high levels of local unemployment, the Project has also set up a programme which provides local people with opportunities to develop new skills and attain qualiﬁcations.
This has been delivered through a two-year employability project (supported through CSGN Development Funds) and through fortnightly volunteering opportunities.
The training and volunteer work has improved lines of sight, upgraded paths and increased maintenance, ensuring that users can access the woodlands and feel safe in their local greenspace.
With two high schools, six primary schools and many nurseries within walking distance, the woodlands provide an excellent opportunity for environmental education. This has been encouraged by the Project which has organised special fun days and educational events. Along with the volunteer work, these events have helped improve the biodiversity in the woodlands by the removal of invasive species and habitat management.
• Recreated a Community Resource: Through addressing local maintenance and access issues, the woodland has changed from being a sometimes feared short-cut, to being used by the whole community. With increased usage, anti-social behaviour has decreased and the woodland is now used as community resource for or informal recreation, access and education.
• Improved Local Community Pride: Education and engagement sessions have helped to improve awareness of the biodiversity value of the woodland and informed people of the threats posed by invasive species. This has helped to increased community pride in this rich and varied greenspace.
• Health Beneﬁts: Encouraging people to take walks in the woodland has increased levels of physical activity. Establishing group walking sessions has also reduced social isolation and increased levels of well-being, particularly amongst older residents.
• Increased Conﬁdence and Skills: The project has enabled people to increase their levels of self conﬁdence, built community capacity, and improve skills and employment prospects by volunteering, training and employability programmes.