City park 'green exercise' project brings growing benefits

City park 'green exercise' project brings growing benefits 
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A ‘green exercise’ project in Lancaster to investigate the mental and physical benefits of volunteering that began as a six-week long pilot scheme almost seven years ago is the subject of a second research paper.

Williamson Park, situated opposite the Lancaster campus of the University of Cumbria, has been the focus for the ‘Greenfingers’ project, which set out to investigate the physical, mental and social health benefits of participation in conservation volunteering. The study also examined the impact the project had on the community through improvements to the overall appearance and facilities within the hill-top park.

A paper published in 2015 focused on the contribution conservation work made to physical health. Over 40 volunteers had their heart rates monitored  while carrying out their ‘green exercise’ efforts.

The new research paper has focused on the dedicated band of conservation volunteers who have remained steadfastly committed to the ‘Greenfingers’ project since its inception.

“Some of the volunteers have been with us from the very beginning,” Mark Christie, senior lecturer in sport and physical activity at the University of Cumbria, said. “It’s a testimony to their dedication and hard work that the project has become such a success that not only expands upon the original concept of Greenfingers as a conservation initiative but also helps fundraise for various exciting small-scale projects around the park. These collective efforts have therefore made a significant and ongoing impact in respect of enhancing levels of personal, social and community capital”.

Using an ethnographic methodology, the research conducted field-based semi-structured interviews with the long-term participating volunteers at various timelines throughout a five-year period. Some interviews were conducted whilst volunteers worked in respect of a ‘talk aloud’ protocol, capturing thoughts, feelings and emotions regarding their experiences in the ‘here and now’, whilst others were undertaken in the park café at a natural break in the conservation work, which typically lasted for two hours every Thursday morning. The findings highlighted the health and benefits derived by the volunteers which extended to encouraging more activity outside of the project.

In addition, the research gave voice to the positive impacts to personal, social and community capital, with examples such as enhancements to individuals’ knowledge and skill development, contribution to group dynamics and the benefits to the immediate environment. The work has made a real difference from removing non-native shrubs to renovating a bird hide, developing new flower beds and planting trees, a wildflower meadow and spring bulbs around the park.