Making Connections: a study in accessible greenspace
The Making Connections research study explored the connection between people and place, and how we can make meaningful opportunities to use and enjoy the outdoor world available to everyone, regardless of age or disability. Completed in 2001, it has provided a basis for our work over the last ten years.
The study was inspired by a concern that many public greenspaces in the UK were failing to inspire, or even make it possible for disabled and older people to use them. This pattern of under-use has been expressed to us informally by many site practitioners and confirmed by a range of research studies.
Making Connections showed that a combination of physical, intellectual and social barriers prevents many disabled and older people from experiencing and engaging with public greenspace.
The disengagement of disabled and older people from public open spaces represents the disengagement of a significant proportion of society: one in five people. Finding ways to remove the barriers to access and involvement has potential to improve quality of life for many and to bring forward a large and diverse range of people as active members of communities and supporters of the natural environment.
Accessibility is a complex issue and relies on both physical factors (such as distance from home) and socio-cultural factors (such as people wanting to go somewhere and feeling comfortable there). These social factors are generally less obvious but often very significant in making disabled people feel excluded. The Making Connections project was designed to address accessibility in terms of these socio-cultural factors, in particular highlighting ways that greenspace can provide rich experiences and a means of disabled people connecting with their community and with their surrounding environment. The aim was to work with disabled people to inform professional practice.
Making Connections highlights the major issues relating to accessible greenspace, identifies examples of good practice from around the country and conveys the views and experiences of disabled and older people and greenspace managers. This involved a comprehensive literature review, site visits to a wide range of greenspace sites, contact with disabled and older people, policy makers and site managers, and two national surveys.
The User Survey
Most visitor surveys focus on people who are already using greenspace, usually through on-site surveys. There has been limited attention on non-users (i.e. people who are excluded, either through choice or because of barriers) and the reasons why they are not visiting greenspace. This was the focus for the Making Connections User survey and involved the use of a postal questionnaire and interviews with disabled and older people.
The challenge was to design a survey that would target disabled and older people who are out-and-about but not necessarily visiting public greenspace sites, and in this way to get the views of people who might well visit if certain adjustments or provision were made. A critical part of the work was the identification of appropriate avenues for distributing the questionnaire so that it would reach people, for example through Shopmobility centres that provide support for disabled shoppers, disability groups, disability-related events such as the national transport roadshow and social and residential centres. There are few surveys of this kind to draw upon and to an extent the development of the methodology in itself was an important part of the research. For this reason we felt it was important to include a summary of the survey questions and data in this publication.
The feedback from the User Survey was valuable in identifying the kinds of barriers that disabled and older people are experiencing, the benefits and attractions that greenspace can offer as well as an insight into the ways in which age and disability can influence expectations, opportunities and choices.
The site survey
The Site Survey used a postal questionnaire and interviews to target greenspace practitioners and policy makers. The aim was to determine what main attractions are on offer, how site managers are responding to the disability community and what kind of good practice is taking place. Consequently some of the questions were designed to mirror those of the User Survey in order to provide some degree of comparison over certain issues.
The site survey showed a lively mix of attractions such as attractive landscape settings, café and refreshment facilities, events and activity programmes. It also revealed that the demonstration of inclusive design remains patchy and it was rare to find complete sites showcasing best practice. Making Connections was produced to change this situation, and to help greenspace managers, designers and planners make their sites available to all visitors.