A new project is underway looking at how to enhance three West Midlands open spaces – the sort of areas that since lockdown many of us have come to value.
An ambitious trial is initially focusing on three locations that are in Willenhall, Tipton and Foleshill, Coventry. The project leaders will be involving local people in transforming or further improving open spaces to areas everyone in the community will want to spend time in and encourage them to take part in more outdoor physical activities.
The Public Space Design trial is a collaboration between West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA); Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council Coventry City Council, Walsall Council, Sport England and Birmingham City University. The trial is funded by Sport England and WMCA.
Potential changes to open space at Princes End, Tipton. Image courtesy of Birmingham City University
The three locations were chosen because they have the potential to either become spaces that will offer people an attractive place to spend more time outdoors, or enhance existing leisure areas, encouraging local residents to become more active.
Local people will play a key part in the development as the will be asked how they would like to see the open spaces transformed.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Warwickshire County Council leader and WMCA portfolio holder for wellbeing said: “Covid-19 has reminded us of the importance of public open spaces. During the crisis they have become somewhere to visit during lockdown, a place to exercise, a venue to meet family and friends and an opportunity to reconnect with nature.
“There are numerous, relatively small pockets of unused and rundown areas throughout our communities, which with some thought and not a huge amount of money could become well-used amenities, providing a host of opportunities for people to be more active and improve their health and wellbeing.”
“To be popular long term, it’s vital that local people are not ‘done to’ but take ownership of these projects, so that what is created is what they want and what they will use. It’s about showing how people can make a real difference to their communities.”
The project will focus on creating an activity-based parklet or pocket park in Princes End, Tipton. The much-needed green space could provide somewhere for students at nearby schools and the local community to use for walking, running and cycling.
In Foleshill, Coventry a much-needed facelift to an overgrown canal towpath would make it safer to walk along, and plans include accessible paths for wheelchairs and pushchairs. It would also open up existing water-based activities such a kayaking and boating to more people.
The third element of the plan aims to breathe new life into parts of Willenhall’s Memorial Park where an area for woodland games including a slalom run and a monkey bar swing have been proposed. Although recognised as an excellent facility which holds a coveted Green Flag award, increased investment in certain areas will help to increase usage as well as levels of physical activity for local residents. “Patients attending nearby GP surgeries and children from surrounding schools will be encouraged to use the park to help promote their wellbeing
Although focusing on three specific sites learning gained from the project will be shared with local authorities across the West Midlands. The evaluation of the trial will run concurrently with the project’s development and delivery and is separately funded by the WMCA and Sport England.
Charles Johnston, Executive Director of Property, Sport England said: “As Coronavirus lockdown measures ease, we’ve seen physical activity levels fall as society starts to reopen. Activity levels have dropped to just 30% of adults meeting recommended guidelines.
“So, there has never been a better time to design the places we live and work with an active environment in mind, which is why we are delighted to fund this great initiative.
“Improving local greenspaces and involving local communities to do it is a great way to help provide more opportunities for people to be active.”
As well as working with local people to create potential future spaces to exercise their bodies the project has provided local students an opportunity to applying their learning. MA students from Birmingham City University’s Centre for Design and Creative Industries and School of Architecture and Design are assisting with the design, delivery and impact of the trial which is due to be completed by spring 2021.