In Victorian times the great parks of Liverpool and indeed the Country were laid out as part of a public health movement which recognised the need for green space to be the lungs of our city and to provide a space for leisure and sport activities. The belief was that this would help those that lived in poor housing and poor-quality environments develop activities both organised and informal that would improve both physical and mental health.
The needs still exist today. We live with a declining air quality; in increasingly stressed mental environments; in increasingly smaller homes and with a range of pressures on our health from inappropriate food and drink consumption and lack of exercise.
Our parks already assist with strong public health activities although most people would not recognise their actions if described in that way. We can sit quietly and meditate or play games. We can fish or tend our allotments. We can stroll with or without a dog or meet up for a coffee.
Every park is important. Being able to stroll within five minutes with a pram or if you are elderly provides physical exercise, a nice break in the day and perhaps the opportunity to natter with people. Some of these can or they may be big, formal parks Like Calderstones Park.
There are both major opportunities to return to the pioneering Public Health origins of the parks movement and major reasons for doing so. These included not only health needs but the need for the public sector as a whole to work together to pool programmes and to pool budgets. We need to be imaginative and innovative with our parks and return them to their original purposes but updated to deal with changed needs and demography.
When I look at the big park in my own ward, I see so many opportunities for doing more. Calderstones Park is, without a doubt, the jewel in the crown of South Liverpool. When part of it was threatened with development 54,000 people signed a petition against the development and £43,000 was raised to fight a legal challenge.
With 113 acres the Park is a big one and has many facets:
- A fishing lake
- A wood turning studio
- An art display gallery
- 103 exemplar trees native to countries globally and the Allerton Oak which is more than 400 years old
- The Mansion House as a base for reading and cultural activities
- A restaurant and ice cream parlour
- Large expanses of grass for informal games and exercises
- The Riding for the Disabled Centre
- 3 bowls pitches
- Woodland which is capable of further use for recreational purposes
- A children’s playground
- 60+ allotments
- A scout troupe
- The former glass house area which is available for parks related uses
- The Japanese and Old English Gardens for peace and calm!
Not every Park has a Mansion House and Riding for the Disabled Stables and a miniature railway but most parks have many of the features listed here.
Although its formal uses are listed (not comprehensively) above its overarching uses provide a huge fount of good health and wellbeing for the people of Liverpool.
Although this is, as yet, unquantified, the Park helps with the mental and physical wellbeing of more than 10,000 people on average every day. People who use the Park benefit from:
- A green, calm and serene environment
- Formal and informal opportunities to meet
- Places to exercise formally and informally
- Ice Cream!
Buteven on the busiest of days there are places that could be better utilised. Perhaps twice as many people could use the Park to gain the benefits mentioned above. Again, this is true for most Parks that I have visited nationwide.
I hope to take forward discussion about Calderstones Park which will combine local and citywide activities. I believe that the NHS through a variety of mechanisms but especially through its new Primary Care Networks should see Parks as a huge resource. If they thought of parks as outside health centres, they could move some of their social prescribing money into programmes to prevention of mental and physical illnesses from repairing them.
I would also like to hold a health and wellbeing event in Calderstones Park next August with a variety of activities and stalls. I would like to have a full range of potential activities on full view in the Park and give people the opportunity to try them out.
The overwhelming need for the NHS is to move spending from curing illness to prevent them. Unless we do that the NHS will inevitably buckle under the strain. I believe that Parks present a major opportunity to be a part of that process. It will need us all to think differently about what a Park actually is for. It will need to do some things differently than they do now. I’d be interested in hearing what you think about this principle generally but, of course, particularly what my constituents think of expanding the usage of our own beloved Calderstones Park.