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Surge in appreciation for green spaces and outpouring of community spirit in South West England amid lockdown

View looking west from Swyre Head Purbeck View looking west from Swyre Head Purbeck © Rupert Hardy

7th May 2020

Surge in appreciation for green spaces and outpouring of community spirit in South West England amid lockdown

CPRE National carried out an interesting survey with the National Federation of Women’s Institutes. The survey looked at whether there were changes in the feelings people have towards community connection and the importance of their local green spaces during the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown.

  • The poll on community spirit and attitudes to green spaces during lockdown finds over two-thirds (65%) of people in the South West think protecting and enhancing green spaces should be a higher priority after the lockdown.
  • In the South West only 11% of people feel less connected to their community during lockdown, while 42% feel more connected.

Despite us living under the strictest social distancing measures we’ve ever experienced in the UK, there has been an increase in community spirit and appreciation for local green spaces and countryside during lockdown, according to new research released today. Commissioned by CPRE and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (WI), and carried out by Opinium, the poll has found that within the South West, over half (60%) agree that people are doing more to help their communities and nearly two-thirds of people (65%) feel that protecting local green spaces should be a higher priority for the government when lockdown ends.

The results released on 7th May show local green spaces have been a haven for many people since lockdown measures began with:

  • The majority (55%) of people living in the South West say they appreciate local green spaces more since the country adopted social distancing measures;
  • Over half (58%) reported that the lockdown has made them more aware of the importance of these local green spaces for their mental health and wellbeing; and
  • 29% of people reported visiting green spaces more since the start of lockdown.

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, said:

“Our countryside and local green spaces are facing mounting pressure but the coronavirus pandemic has reminded us why the countryside next door, including our Green Belts, is so important. More people are aware of the health and wellbeing benefits that access to green spaces delivers and support for protecting and enhancing these after lockdown is impossible for the government to ignore.

“Going back to business as usual is not an option. The government must use the forthcoming planning reforms to protect these precious spaces and also go further by investing in their enhancement.

“Many of us feared that lockdown would see more people isolated, lonely and cut off from their communities and the outside world. However, the results have turned these notions on their head. While we are physically distanced, many of us are more connected than ever and people are helping each other in their communities – with different age groups connecting more – which is truly inspiring to see.”

Outpouring of community spirit

It is clear that some of the high-profile volunteering and fundraising initiatives, including the remarkable fundraising by Captain Tom, are not isolated acts of kindness and community spirit. 

The poll has also uncovered an outpouring of community spirit and feeling of togetherness, revealing that:

  • Only 11% of those living in the South West feel less connected to their community at this time – 42% feel more connected and 44% just as connected as before;
  • Over half (60%) agree that people are doing more to help their community under lockdown;
  • Two in five people (39%) are communicating more with people in their local community
  • The top five ways in which the South West is connecting more under lockdown are:
  1. ‘Clap for the NHS’ on a Thursday evening (57%)
  2. Saying hello at the front door (38%)
  3. Social media (35%)
  4. Seeing people in person and at a safe distance in communal spaces like parks (33%)
  5. Phone calls (25%)

Intergenerational connections have also been impacted:

  • In the South West nearly a fifth (19%) of people have reported making new connections with different age groups in their local community;
  • For all those who have made these new connections, three quarters (75%) are optimistic these new relationships will continue once lockdown is over.

Lynne Stubbings, Chair, National Federation of Women’s Institutes, said:

“It is wonderful to see how communities have become more connected in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is clear that we are cherishing our local communities now more than ever – by supporting our neighbours and those who are vulnerable, and getting out in the fresh air at our local green spaces."

“The WI has always thrived through difficult times and for over one hundred years it has remained at the heart of its communities, supporting those in need – and today’s lockdown is no different. WI members across the country have stepped forward to help others throughout the crisis – whether by arranging free book deliveries, sewing for the NHS, supporting food banks, or creating craft kits for families home-schooling their children. It is these acts of kindness and solidarity which have spread positivity, alleviated loneliness, and lifted people’s spirits through what has been an incredibly challenging time.”

“Throughout this crisis, green spaces have also been a lifeline to people dealing with the impact of lockdown. So many of us have discovered pockets of green right on our doorsteps – a chance to get out in the fresh air, exercise, and support our mental wellbeing, which has been an oasis in difficult times. Yet too many of these places are threatened - by pollution, litter or the impacts of climate change. As we look to rebuild after the crisis, we must make sure that we continue to cherish our communities and this new sense of connectedness – both to each other and to our local environment.”

Peter Bowyer, Chair of Trustees, Dorset CPRE said:

"The current context is calling out for clear national and local leadership in respect of the countryside. We all have opportunities to develop and demonstrate leadership. There is a particular opening now for CPRE to engage with young people. Young people have shown their concerns and interests in the environment and the countryside in many ways.

Dorset CPRE calls on the government to implement its manifesto commitment to create new National Parks and make a Dorset National Park a key part of the nation’s recovery plan. The Glover Review of Landscapes recommends new National Parks and recognises Dorset’s outstanding case. A National Park would play a vital role in ensuring a thriving, sustainable future for our communities, including young people and families, our economy and environment, Dorset-wide."

About the Poll

Opinium conducted the research on behalf of CPRE and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, surveying 2,002 nationally representative UK adults aged 18 and over from the 24 to 27 April 2020.



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