Around 10 million people in Britain have access to canal-side parks and fields right on our doorstep – living close to a waterway cared for by the Canal & River Trust. In towns and cities, where deprivation is often at its highest and access to alternative green space is most limited, these havens are a boon.
The Trust’s ‘Community Roots’ project, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, is aimed at encouraging people living in and around the waterways to come and appreciate the canals, learn more about them and help to maintain them – whilst reaping the wellbeing benefits from doing so.
Community groups, organisations, friends and neighbours are encouraged to visit their local waterway and help the Trust maintain, enhance and develop the canals as places for everyone to enjoy.
The Trust cares for a network of 2,000 miles of canals and rivers across England and Wales, crossing a range of industrial areas, residential communities and rural locations. For many, the canals may be one of the closest outdoor spaces to where they live, allowing them to step away from their everyday lives and connect with nature.
Canal & River Trust has received over £18.8 million in funding raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, awarded by Postcode Earth Trust, which has enabled the charity to fund a range of vital projects, including the Community Roots programme.
Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, says:
“I am delighted that funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery is allowing Canal & River Trust to develop their Community Roots programme, allowing them to reach out to communities across England and Wales. The Covid-19 pandemic showed us all how important the natural environment is and the huge benefit that getting outdoors can have on our physical and mental health so it’s great that player funding is helping people connect with nature and outdoor spaces.”
Nature-based activities are gaining momentum as a cost-effective, easy-to-do, low-risk option for improving both our physical and mental health, particularly for those who do not have the ability or opportunity to engage with nature as part of their usual lifestyle.
Those participating in Canal & River Trust’s Community Roots programme have shared the benefits of their involvement, which include a reduction in the need for physical and mental health services and for some no longer requiring these services at all. Emma, Community Roots Engagement Co-ordinator says:
“One of our volunteers has said that volunteering and getting involved in my programme has helped her be “her” again. It has allowed her to go to places she has never seen and do things she thought she would never do. It has helped her in her ‘self-recovery’ so much she was signed off her counselling.”
Lutfur, Community Roots Engagement Co-ordinator says:
“We’ve had a volunteer who’s physical and mental health has greatly improved through Trust canal litter pick activities. She lost weight and gained confidence which improved her both mental and physical wellbeing.”
The Community Roots programme places a particular emphasis on engaging with communities experiencing deprivation and providing these local connections and access to nature where it will make the greatest impact. Engaging with Canal & River Trust’s waterways has been shown to benefit mental and physical health which in turn provides a wider value to society in reducing the burden on health services.
Mark Riviere, national Community Roots lead, says:
“The benefits of spending time in and amongst nature on our canals and rivers is increasingly being recognised, with the latest figures showing a benefit to the NHS of £1.1 billion per year. The support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery is vitally important as it allows us to continue our important work to protect and preserve the nation’s canals for this and future generations – helping to make life better by water for millions of people.”
The health and wellbeing benefits of time outdoors and in nature are clear but the Community Roots activities go further by motivating people to appreciate and value their local environment.
One Community Roots participant shared:
“I always find when I am with nature, I get a sense of clarity…I get a different perspective on things. It’s almost like your day-to-day stresses drop off and you get focused around how to move forward. I think nature has been my go-to for a bit of a sanity check. And as time goes on, I am needing it more and more.”