Real Wellbeing Requires Abundant Green and Blue Spaces

The places where we live and the stresses we face constantly change, but the importance of our friendships remain. Living in safe, attractive communities is essential for our wellbeing. Connection to others defines our sense of belonging, our place in the world. It’s not surprising that research shows a strong link between a sense of community and emotional wellbeing.

Before Christmas, the North of Tyne hosted a wellbeing policy workshop. What really matters to quality of life? For too long public policy has focused on remote statistics like GDP and growth rate. We’re in the middle of the worst recession ever. How we rebuild will define our futures.

The Carnegie Trust’s head of policy is a pioneer in this field. She described how striving to hit economic indicators misses the point about the real environment that shapes people’s health, wealth and happiness. The Welsh Government’s commissioner for the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act ran us through their approach. How every policy decision is viewed through the lens of what effect will this have in ten, twenty, fifty years time. This has put long-term sustainability front and centre of policy making. Not just carbon footprints, but the visual quality of the environment; the effect of green spaces on mental health. Good old fashioned happiness.

The obsession with GDP, growth, and the FTSE index leaves a huge majority of people falling through the gaps. Everything is done for some greater good, that few of us seem to share in. The claim that trickle-down works. That “a rising tide lifts all boats”.

In the decade before Covid, UK GDP grew from £1.6 trillion to £2.1 trillion. A 34% increase. In the same period, knife crime increased 42%, rough sleeping increased 169% and foodbank use increased 3900%.

The rising tide is great if you own a yacht. But it leaves the rest of us cold and wet. And some drown.

To quote Lillie Franks, Writer of Wrongs on Twitter

Replacing the words “The Economy” with “rich peoples yacht money”

How can we respond to COVID without sacrificing rich peoples yacht money ?

-Saving the environment sounds nice but what about rich peoples yacht money

-Medicare for all would destroy rich peoples yacht money

We’ve put inclusive economy at the heart of our approach. The new jobs we’re creating have to be good jobs. Paid enough to live on, with job security, where mental health is taken seriously. It matches our commitment to community cohesion. Left to the market, there would be nowhere we could meet that doesn’t involve spending money.

Real wellbeing requires abundant green and blue spaces, and safe spaces to interact with our neighbours. Communities need a vibrant centre, a focus for people of all ages to participate in education, economic and cultural life. We’re laying some of the groundwork with our £1.5 million Community Hubs project.

There’s a real wealth of talent and goodwill in our communities. With Crowdfund North of Tyne, we’re giving this a bit of a nudge to encourage people. The range of projects getting community buy-in has been fantastic. Five have been selected for funding from the first funding cycle.

The community beekeeping project will be based at the Meadow Well Connected centre in North Shields. Set up by a local man, it will help people to learn the basics of beekeeping without needing to fork out for all the kit. There’s funding to place ten beehives at the centre. It’ll be run intergenerationally, with kids, parents and grandparents, and include people with disabilities. What a great way to bring people together, while also providing a pollination service to local gardens and allotments. With honey at the end of it!

Sustainability means tackling the climate crisis. But it also means placing people at the centre of policy, ahead of abstract economic indicators. The 2009 book, the Spirit Level, documents the “pernicious effects that inequality has on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, and encouraging excessive consumption”.

For every measure of health or social problems, the more unequal a country is, the worse the problems are. Whether a country is rich or poor overall, it is inequality that increases physical ill health, mental ill health, drug abuse, imprisonment, obesity, violence, teenage pregnancies, and child abuse.

One homeless person sleeping rough diminishes us all. One family unable to feed their children makes all of our lives worse. There was so much to fix even before this pandemic hit.

An end to inequality would benefit us all.

Published originally in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 28.12.20