Green Spaces for Health in the South Parish

Context

The natural environment is a primary determinant of health and in many ways the foundation of modern public health. Recent thinking (Marmot Review, 2010) on the ‘Social Determinants of Health’ indicates that good health and wellbeing is not solely the absence of illness; the role of the environment we live in is hugely important in shaping our lives and consequently our health.

Local authorities already play a vital role in protecting, maintaining and improving local green spaces and can create new areas of green space to improve access for all communities (see Cork City Development Plan 2015 – 2020). Cork as a WHO Healthy City provides the opportunity for partnership across different parts of the local authority and beyond, particularly between the environmental sector, health promotion, planning, transport, community development and parks and leisure.

In Cork City there are a number of commitments to the development of sustainable approaches to ‘greening the city’ (Cork City Development Plan 2015 – 2021), incorporating social inclusion measures (Healthy Ireland, HSE Primary Care Strategy, Cork City Development Plan 2015-2021).  In addition the Cork City Centre Strategy 2014 sets out the vision to revitalise the city centre. Cork City Council is working with stakeholders to revitalise particular areas of the city centre including the Barrack Street / South Parish area with a ‘combination of investment in the public realm, grant schemes, and dereliction sites action’.

 

Partners

A number of agencies and community groups are in place in Cork City to facilitate greater access to green spaces for the promotion of health and well-being in the community through an inter-agency partnership.  The following agencies, departments and community organisations are involved:

Partners

  • Local Residents
  • The Lantern Project
  • Cork Healthy Cities
  • Cork Environmental Forum
  • Cork Food Policy Council
  • Nano Nagle Place
  • An Garda Síochána
  • Cork City Council
  • St John’s College
  • Eco Congregation St Finbarr’s South Chapel
  • Douglas Street Traders
  • Learning Neighbourhoods
  • Ballyphehane Men’s Shed

 

Evidence of Effectiveness

Having access to high quality, local natural environments is critically important to promoting physical & mental health and wellbeing.  Access to good quality green space is associated with better self-rated health; lower body mass index scores, overweight and obesity levels; improved mental health and wellbeing and increased longevity in older people.

The natural environment offers the space and opportunity, close to where we live, to be active through play, exploration and discovery of the natural world.  Increasing the use of good quality green space for all social groups is likely to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities. It can also bring other benefits such as greater community cohesion and less social isolation.

Access to green space is not equal across the population with people living in the most deprived areas less likely to live in the greenest areas, and therefore less opportunity to gain the health benefits of green space compared with people living in the least deprived areas. Living in a deprived area increases the chances of poorer environmental conditions and exposure to social and environmental characteristics that increase health risks.

Increasing the green spaces in our area also increases biodiversity. At a time when there is much concern of a possible collapse of our local ecosystems it is of huge importance that we plant native species of trees for the well being of the land, the insects and birds and well as people. Planting specific flowers that support pollinators and endangered butterflies and bees is very effective in urban settings and has a powerful impact on local communities involved in such activities.  Connecting with nature is hugely beneficial to human beings, not least observing and interacting with the biosphere of other species we share our area with.

Similarly recycling of plastic and paper materials, using our cars less and cycling more makes, considering how we heat our homes and choosing more sustainable heating systems ultimately makes for a healthier environment.

What are Green Spaces for Health? 

We propose that Green Spaces for Health becomes a city-wide initiative designed to provide the opportunity to take on physical tasks in the outdoors – improving strength and stamina, boosting practical skills and confidence, promoting mental health and social interaction and benefitting the local area with additional green spaces and in addition to utilising green spaces to grow food. Increasing the use of good quality green space for all social groups is likely to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities. It can also bring other benefits such as greater community cohesion and less social isolation. As a community Green Spaces can do much to promote health in its widest sense, by facilitating learning opportunities about heating alternatives for our homes, measuring local pollution, encouraging more walking and cycling, understating trees and their valuable role in our lives.

In Cork City there are a number of commitments to the development of sustainable approaches to ‘greening the city’ (Cork City Development Plan 2015 – 2021), incorporating social inclusion measures (Healthy Ireland, HSE Primary Care Strategy, Cork City Development Plan 2015-2021, Cork City Council Climate Change Adaptation Strategy).  In addition the Cork City Centre Strategy 2014 sets out the vision to revitalise the city centre. Cork City Council is working with stakeholders to revitalise particular areas of the city centre including the Barrack Street / South Parish area with a ‘combination of investment in the public realm, grant schemes, and dereliction sites action’.

Green Spaces for Health and South Parish 2019

A new coordinator was appointed in November 2018 and a number of  initiatives were developed.

  1. Parkowen (St. John’s Cemetary) the location and establishing of a Green Spaces biodiversity garden
  2. Introduction and maintenance of a Bee Hive at St John’s College
  3. Reconnecting with Nature; two six week courses given at the Nano Nagle Centre.
  4. Green Spaces founded an Eco Congregation in South Parish, fostering environmental links and initiatives between the three local churches.
  5. Green Spaces started a Tree Audit of South Parish with the School of Bees UCC and CARL Research.
  6. A paper recycling initiative in the parish is ongoing, with paper from businesses and private homes diverted to Ecocel in the Marina
  7. Biodiversity awareness in parish
  8. Outdoor Green Wall
  9. Re-Imagining South Parish. A new project by Green Spaces that plans to get professional, residential and other interested partners reimagining how South Parish could look if all parties worked together on a charter for the area.
  10. Food Forest: Green Spaces for Health continue to maintain the Food Forest on Summerhill South, this is a nursery of edible plants, flowers and herbs for local people and passerby’s. It also provides another habitat in a busy city area for bees and insects.

 

PARKOWEN

  • Since November 2018, Green Spaces for Health have planted a twenty metre long hedgerow of native species including elder, crab apple, hazel, chokeberry.…
  • One-third of the park’s green is left wild. Our partners Cork Nature Network are examining the species of grasses, flowers, insects and birds that emerge from this re-wilding.
  • Green Spaces have planted six native trees in the perimeter of the park
  • Our volunteer gardening group have established three separate beds for growing flowers and herbs that attract pollinating insects.
  • We liaise productively with the Cork City Council parks staff and have negotiated that there will be no spraying of glyphosate or any other harmful chemical in the park. In return we weed the monument and pavements, cut one area of the grass and maintain the area around the base of the trees. We also work with the staff who cut the grass and have reduced the number of cuts by more than half in the year.
  • Green Spaces pick up the rubbish in the park and maintain it with a weekly Saturday morning session of volunteer gardeners. Cork City Council collect the stacked rubbish at appointed times.
  • We have held three public events since last November in the park: Mindfulness in the Park led by a meditation specialist, Grow and Glow event in May when we had talks and tours by an urban ecologist, a nutritionist and forager expert, a mindful movement workshop and a pollinating workshop given by a horticulturalist. We also held a public poetry reading session in the park.

 

BEE HIVES

  • With St John’s College we embarked on an initiative to establish a bee hive on the rooftop of St John’s College.
  • Green Spaces connected Hive Mind, a bee hive enterprise in Myrtleville with St John’s and also encouraged anyone interested in bees from the community to get involved on a weekly basis by visiting the bees and helping to maintain the hives.
  • The hive is very successful and the bee population grew to the extent that there is now a second hive on the rooftop. Thirty-four jars of honey were extracted this first summer.
  • The environmental, design, woodwork and media students from the college got involved with the bee hives through various modules. Such is the interest locally in the bees that the college have decided to run a bee keeping course next spring.
  • The initiative led to closer ties between St John’s College and Green Spaces for Health. Eight students did their work experience with Green Spaces this year. Green Spaces hold some of their public talks and film screenings in the college. Green Spaces have organised a waste management workshop on campus and will help set up a composting facility on site. Green Spaces also provided trees, a vine and seeds for planting on the college grounds.

 

RECONNECTING WITH NATURE

  • Green Spaces provided this six week course on two occasions in South Parish since last November and will continue running the course into the future. The course is based on the work of environmentalist, philosopher Joanne Macy and seeks to establish a strong empowered community concerned with preserving nature and our place within in it.

 

ST FINBARR’S SOUTH CHAPEL ECO CONGREGATION

  • Green Spaces founded this eco congregation last January and since then they have conducted an energy audit of one old street in South Parish out of which they hosted a public talk by Conor O’Brien of the SEAI and a local resident who recently carried out necessary building works on her 100 year house and was able to give a clear account on the challenges of heating an old house with new technologies.
  • We hope to pursue this theme of sustainable energy possibilities by inviting two home owners, one of whom is local and again lives in an older house to talk about their experiences of installing photo voltaic panels in their roofs.
  • This Eco Congregation also held a trial three month collection of residents paper where paper was delivered to a depot and Green Spaces collected and brought to Ecocel in the Marina where paper is converted into green insulation for attics and underfloor areas. The venture was a success with a big uptake.
  • Eco Congregation St Finbarr’s South raised €1000 for the victims of Storm Idai in Malawi, this money went towards the building of two houses and the eco congregation receive photographic updates from Malawi on how the houses are progressing. The church also raised €1400 for the Great Green Wall Project in Africa thus raising the issue of climate change and consequent farming challenges with the increased desertification of African farming land.
  • St Finbarr’s EC organised the first ever meeting of Eco Congregations across Cork City and County at South Parish. The collective group will now concentrate on common problems or opportunities with outcomes and ideas that all can benefit from.

 

TREE AUDIT SOUTH PARISH

  • Green Spaces for Health South Parish wanted to get people living and working in the area to start identifying the trees on their street. The idea of the audit is to map every tree in the parish, identify it, measure the tree and send the data to UCC, School of Bees where a fourth year student will use to data to determine how much carbon is being sequestered by the trees.
  • The audit is 80% complete and has thrown up some interesting information on the percentage of native to non native trees in this parish. It has also revealed some old beautiful heritage trees that should be considered prize possessions of the parish.
  • Another consequence of the audit is that it has highlighted areas that have absolutely no trees and areas that could be planted.
  • Staff from Cork City Council Parks Department have been very supportive and Green Spaces South Parish are communicating with them on potential sites for trees. Also the community at large is responding by suggesting areas to plant.
  • CARL Research with UCC and Green Spaces for Health will launch the Tree Audit in October 2020 and hope to have by then an interactive map and a publication on the trees of the parish.

 

PAPER RECYCLING

  • Green Spaces for Health worked with the Douglas Street Business Association in the recycling project. Since December 2018 several tonnes of paper has been collected from businesses by Green Spaces and transported to Ecocel in the Marina for the conversion to Green Insulation. This has proven a very successful initiative with a high level of uptake. Businesses involved include: Southern Sign’s, Bia Blasta, Langford Row Medical Centre, Education Literacy Centre, St John’s College, CB Motorcycles, Good Day Deli…

BIODIVERSITY AWARENESS IN THE PARISH

As more people in the community become aware of the bees on the rooftop they are keen to provide food not only for the honey bees but for an increasing array of insects that we are spotting in the gardens and in green areas of the parish such as the fritillary butterfly, bumble bees, mason and solitary bees, all sorts of ladybirds, goldfinches, swallows, finches, robins, house martins….This will lead to a citizen science type of recording in time that we at Green Spaces would like to foster. It means potentially that we can hope to get people out walking and observing the nature around them. When the tree audit is complete we would like to establish a tree trail, a flower corridor, etc for people to follow.

GREEN WALL

Green Spaces for Health secured a peacemaking grant for a green wall in 2019. A location has been sourced and by spring of 2020 we hope to have the wall in place. This will be an opportunity to grow vertically in areas where planting trees has proven difficult. The wall will include pollinator supporting plants.

RE-IMAGING SOUTH PARISH

 Facilitated by UCC Integration of research department, this project seeks to harness the multitalented, multi disciplined groups, institutions, individuals across the parish with the aim of taking a fresh look at how we could collectively change the appearance of the parish through collective planning and action.

Sometimes it takes a visual expression, event or representation to promote the idea that change is not only possible but achievable. What if we can re imagine (visually) South Parish, to becoming a parish with an exciting, transformative outlook. How could we bring it about, what does the idea hold for different people working in different areas across the parish? This area is unique in being home to the City Hall, the School of Architecture, the School of Art,  three main Christian churches, a large hospital, a Garda station that serves the city, primary and secondary schools, third level colleges, the biggest housing hostel on Ireland, probation services, historic buildings, Learning Neighbourhood and so much more. What if all of these institutions came together to reimagine from their perspective how the parish could evolve…with environment, inclusivity and health at the centre of their deliberations. This forms the starting basis of an exciting project that we plan to host in February 2020.

We are very happy to share any information with you pertaining to the above.

Greenspacescork@gmail.com