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From play parks to wild woods and majestic moors, members have been telling us all about the open spaces they love in their community, to help us with some of our thinking around the Co-op Foundation’s Environment Fund.

The Fund was set up by the old United Co-op to support environmental projects in the places where it operated, so we were keen to hear from members living in those areas. First, about the local open spaces that are most special to them and, second, about the benefits they get from accessing these and other spaces in their community.

Here’s what we heard

030375a9eb21-img_00851.jpgMembers love their parks and gardens, with this category topping the list of their favourite spaces.

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But a variety of open spaces are valued: three out of four members said that the woods, waterways and open countryside of their community were spaces they valued.

3ff600495bdc-WEST_PENNINE_MOORS_2623_1_These spaces act as a vital ‘green lung’ – the number 1 reason why people love their local spaces was, quite simply, ‘fresh air’. Health and wellbeing benefits were also deemed important by a large majority of members.

bc10fc63f256-IMG_1494Members highlighted the importance of preserving open access to green spaces, whether for individuals to enjoy, or community get-togethers. Many also voiced concerns that this access was being threatened by unwanted development.

1ad3dd4121e3-1618107_533819903401853_264491345_oThere were also signs of communities stepping in to look after their local spaces and help make them sustainable – we heard encouraging stories about a community farm and a co-operative café helping local green spaces to thrive.

So, here’s what we plan to do now

It’s clear that the environmental and community benefits of local green spaces should be protected and enhanced. But to make these sustainable, the challenge of funding and support for maintenance also needs addressing.

Community-run enterprises could be the answer. This year, the Co-op Foundation will pilot a new scheme to invest in innovative local organisations that are able to balance the 3 vital ingredients of success: environmental, social and economic sustainability.

But social enterprise won’t be the only answer for our most cherished parks, rivers and forests. After all, these aren’t always suited to commercial activities, and the last thing we want is for making money to compromise the very reasons why people love these open spaces.

So the Co-op Foundation will also continue to support green spaces through our volunteering programme. Last year, 442 Co-op volunteers got involved in projects to improve local spaces – from litter picks to creating hedgehog and bug houses and clearing pathways. Now, by acting on members’ views, we hope our volunteers can have an even more positive impact on members’ communities.

And if you know of a park, woodland or waterways project that needs more volunteers, please tell us about it by adding a comment.

We’re also starting a UK-wide consultation on other aspects of local life where we think community-run enterprise can make things better – particularly in the most disadvantaged areas. Click here to Join In and take our Community Enterprise survey.

Jim Cooke
Co-op Foundation Manager

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