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Addressing health inequalities in greenspaces to age well: Part II diversity and safety

Updated Thursday, 4 April 2024

How can a collaborative response from managers of greenspaces, park users and other stakeholders help address health and wellbeing inequalities? 

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Ageing well need not be expensive nor be exclusive to the selected few. Using greenspaces, we have been examining how to age well, as part of the Open University and MK Parks Trust’s initiative. Unfortunately, health inequalities still abound, and Part I of our article has attempted to understand potential causes.  

The Health Inequalities Part I article has previously examined socio-economic reasons and limited transport options as causes of health inequalities, providing some solutions being undertaken by MK Parks Trust. This  article will examine the issues of inequalities with regard to diversity and safety issues. 

Discrimination and cultural issues can also mean some individuals and communities are less likely to access nature, or to have a positive experience in green or blue spaces. For example, people from ethnic minority backgrounds, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and women and girls often cite less than satisfactory experience. In some ethnic minority communities, there may be a lack of emphasis on engaging with nature so knowing where to go and what to wear is difficult (UK Government). Certain types of activities may require a level of preparation or specific types of equipment or clothing. An absence of childhood experiences with the outdoors can lead to less confidence as an adult. This can create problems for the next generation and becomes self-perpetuating. 

Safer parks illustration showing a park with a welcome signCredit: NCYA Harper Perry

Some of the reasons for lack of engagement may also be due to feeling unsafe or unwelcome. If natural spaces are more likely to be accessed by people of a white background, then people from an ethnic minority background who have experienced racism may feel that the space is not for them. These feelings can also be experienced by people who have faced other types of discrimination in public spaces too. Women and girls can also be put off in spaces that cater for activities that are perceived as traditionally male, such as sports (Safer Parks for Women and Girls). Spaces that are poorly maintained may also lead to feeling unsafe, for example poor lighting.

Many of these issues are interlinked, and can compound each other, so often it is important to look at the broader picture and especially engage stakeholders in confidence and show respect. 

Milton Keynes: The Parks Trust: diversity and safety 

The Parks Trust has various ways of trying to address this diversity and access concerns.

  illustration showing how to make parks saferCredit: NCYA Harper Perry

Milton Keynes is a very diverse city, with communities from cultures all around the world. They are enthusiastic about celebrating different cultures in the parks and host many events throughout the year including India Day and African Diaspora Festival (MK Parks trust events) to name a few. The Trust support community groups in leading their own events in the parks through our Community Ambassadors panel, where we provide advice on leading activities safely and helps the Trust understand how to make the wider events programme more inclusive. 

Safer parks illustration showing how to make parks safer for women and girlsCredit: NCYA Harper Perry and Josie Brookes 

Recently, a study was completed by the charity, Make Space for Girls which researched the barriers to accessing greenspace amongst girls and women. Sadly, women generally feel less safe in parks than men, and therefore don’t visit as often. They therefore miss out on exercise, fresh air, and mental health benefits. Make Space for Girls are campaigning for park managers to implement new safety measures to make parks more equitable, for example considering adding lighting, a greater staff presence in the park and ensuring wayfinding is very clear. The Parks Trust Women’s Walking Network programme offers a safe, friendly environment for women who want to explore and exercise together. 

Cities and towns around the country are working hard to promote equitable access to the great outdoors, though there is always room for improvement. 


While there are significant benefits to health and wellbeing from natural spaces and people’s engagement therein, there are various barriers and inequalities for parts of our society. This highlights the importance of addressing these inequalities in a timely and inclusive way. One such is the need for various stakeholders and professionals to work together i.e. to start designing spaces for inclusivity and working with credible partners. Collaborating with health professionals and providing face-to-face support and encouragement will help people significantly. Whilst we need greenspace managers to keep our natural spaces functioning well, there is also need to understand stakeholders’ access and use of these spaces. Hence a collaborative partnership amongst communities of users, stakeholders, and park managers would be crucial. Of course, sharing any successful local interventions would be worthwhile and it is heartening to know the actions being undertaken, for example by MK Parks Trust.




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