Our new study shows how diverse communities engage with the countryside

Our new study shows how diverse communities engage with the countryside

Did you know that Luton has a population of 225,261 and is super-diverse with over 50% of the population identifying as Asian, Asian British and Black? Over 150 languages and dialects are spoken in the town.

We are proud to have such diverse communities so close to the Chilterns National Landscape and are keen for these communities to experience the countryside on their doorstep and enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits it brings. Yet, it is known that many people from diverse communities face barriers in accessing these greenspaces.

We wanted to ascertain the current levels of engagement and to understand what barriers people face when accessing the countryside, in order to create solutions to overcome the identified barriers. So, with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we commissioned the University of Bedfordshire to undertake what has become the UK’s largest study on how diverse communities engage with greenspaces and the countryside.

The study, carried out as part of our Chalkscapes Landscape Partnership project, focused on the Luton and Dunstable area. The researchers found that only 33% of participants visited greenspaces weekly, with older individuals, those facing deprivation, and people from minority ethnic backgrounds being the least frequent users. Key findings also included barriers such as a limited awareness of greenspaces and the countryside, a lack of essential facilities, concerns about racism, discrimination and safety, anxieties about unleashed dogs, and worries about the costs and availability of transport.

“The Chilterns is a very special landscape, and everyone should be able to access and enjoy all that it has to offer,” said Dr Elaine King, CEO at the Chilterns National Landscape. “At a time when so many inequalities exist in society, the results of this study provide an opportunity to improve both people’s enjoyment of the countryside, and the positive effects it can have on their health and wellbeing.”

The research involved 14 focus groups, nine interviews with community representatives, and a community survey generating 906 completed questionnaires – making it one of the most extensive studies on greenspace accessibility in the UK. The study built trusted relationships with ‘less visible’ community members through a team of local bilingual researchers, ensuring representation of diverse local populations.

“We used our Talk, Listen, Change ethnographic approach to engage with our communities of interest,” said Professor Nasreen Ali, from the University of Bedfordshire, who led the study. “Face-to-face interviews enabled us to better understand how individuals and societies function.”

Professor Gurch Randhawa, the study’s co-researcher, recommends developing a targeted outreach programme. “Working with diverse communities and religious organisations, we want to co-create ways to increase access for underrepresented groups to greenspaces and the Chilterns countryside,” he said.

We are now seeking funding to deliver a Collaborative Targeted Outreach Programme (CTOP) to develop sustainable, scalable activities which overcome the barriers identified and increase the use of local greenspaces and the countryside.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss funding the next stage of this work.

We would also like to thank the communities of Luton and Dunstable for their invaluable participation in our study. Your willingness to share lived experiences has provided us with crucial insights that will shape the future of countryside accessibility and inclusivity. Your contributions not only shed light on existing barriers but have also paved the way for meaningful change. By amplifying your voices, we are committed to creating a future where everyone can fully enjoy and benefit from the beauty and tranquillity of the countryside. Thank you for your time, your stories and your dedication to making our shared spaces more welcoming for all.

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Our new study shows how diverse communities engage with the countryside

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