Outdoor Community Spaces; More than face value

Written by Smera Nadeem, Isolation Reduction Project Manager, Challenge:ELBA team

This month, Challenge:ELBA is highlighting the benefits of outdoor extra-curricular activity and play provided by community organisations, which benefits students and the younger generation greatly. With the help of business volunteers over the years, giving invaluable time to volunteer with parks, city farms, adventure playgrounds, outdoor classrooms, school and community gardens, they have helped improve and cultivate places to broaden experiences and learning.

“… we felt we were giving something back to the community, we used muscles not used before or in a very long time! And through Jake learnt a lot about the plight/challenges these places face to remain in existence and what it aims to teach the kids of various ages. The value to all was clear to see.”

– Liberty volunteer at SWAPA (Shakespeare Walk Adventure Playground)

The list below highlights the need and importance of community organisations and schools who provide opportunities for outdoor experiences. This is why it is vitally important for business volunteers to support these organisations and keep them maintained and functioning at their optimum:

  1. Affordable/Free Access: Many families in East London are from low socio-economic backgrounds and many do not have gardens. Places like community gardens, local parks and adventure playgrounds create a place for those who need it the most and during times when it is needed most like school holidays and after school.
  2. Safe: Adventure playgrounds are staffed and are places of social safety and support – they allow children to explore in a contained space.
  3. Child-led and community spirit: Adventure playgrounds are child-led spaces where children are in charge of their own play experience. They build their understanding of and learn how to manage risks themselves. Outdoor spaces allow children to work together and figure out solutions to problems whilst creating bonds and being part of something.
  4. Opportunity to socialise and increase social interaction: Playing outdoors allows children to make new friends and interact in new ways. Children learn to adapt and find others with similar interests outside of the classroom. For those who are home-schooled, all these interactions and opportunities are new and important for social development.
  5. Cultivate and nurture learning: Children can connect with nature and experiment while learning about habitats, biodiversity and learning new information and skills like gardening, ponds and wildlife, growing vegetable patches, nutrition and cooking etc.
  6. Improves wellbeing: Studies show that being around nature and the outdoors improves wellbeing – being in a natural environment, allows children to relax and refocus. This is also important for those who suffer from social anxiety and ADHD as they move away from closed spaces and classrooms and are out in the open. Great way to increase participation in lessons too and being outdoors also encourages creativity.
  7. Inclusion and diversity: All are welcome to access their local community spaces and it opens doors to meet people from different walks of life, learn about different cultures and religions.
  8. Various activities: Many of the community centres and adventure playgrounds provide a wide array of opportunities and activities for children to get involved in; varying from arts and crafts and cooking classes to using tools to build things or tie-dying t-shirts etc. Many experiences they may not have the opportunities to explore otherwise.
  9. Access to additional services: Adventure playgrounds and centres that are staffed so they allow the opportunity to create meaningful relationships, staff provide a listening ear, safeguard and provide extra services and support like counselling, sexual health clinics for teenagers etc.
  10. Positive Intervention: (1) Children have somewhere to go and are off the streets which means they are less likely to be involved with gangs and crime. (2) Health benefits: They are provided understanding of healthy eating and nutrition and are provided with healthy snacks and food. (3) Opportunities for higher levels of physical activity as children play and explore which also builds on development of motor skills; strength and coordination.

With the country opening up after lockdown, many of the community spaces that had to close their doors are now able to accommodate service users again. It has been a challenging time for many, with outdoors spaces neglected, overgrown and financial income low. The support from business volunteers is crucial and needed now more than ever. It is mutually beneficial as being outdoors not only helps the younger generation but working professionals and human beings overall:

“Overall the team thoroughly enjoyed the volunteering day and loved hearing about what Evergreen do for the children in the area. The team commented on how much they enjoyed working as a team for the day outside of the office and seeing what a difference they had made to the gardens which the children can enjoy.”

– Gallaghers Volunteer at Evergreen Adventure Playground

Challenge:ELBA is excited to be resuming face to face volunteering and creating opportunities for volunteers to get stuck in and allow local residents to take advantage of what East London (and beyond) offers in terms of outdoor play and activities.

Clare Hawkins, Chief Executive Officer from Stepney City Farm, is happy to see the farm open to the public and the outdoor classroom being utilised. Once again, the importance of these spaces and the benefits they provide is highlighted:

“…it’s been great to see [local schools] back on site, able to enjoy an educational field trip (quite literally!). Urban school groups can take part in curriculum-linked workshops and tours on site; children are able to understand where their food comes from, benefit from being outdoors in nature, and learn about more sustainable and environmentally friendly living. Farmer Siobhan manages the programme, and has also been busy running a series of visits for the families. Recently, we’ve even been welcoming a Beavers home school group on Thursdays for ‘guinea pig club’; children learn all about the guinea pigs, and how to care for them. They did some lovely drawings of the guinea pigs for the farmers….”

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