Fringe Box



Community Spirit Flourishes in Lockdown As We Re-discover Our Green Spaces

Published on: 12 May, 2020
Updated on: 13 May, 2020

Guildford from the east, a few yards from Green Lane, on the field at the end of the Hog’s Back that gives the High Street it’s green backdrop.

Despite us living under the strictest social distancing measures we’ve ever experienced in the UK, there has been an increase in community spirit and appreciation for local green spaces and countryside during lockdown, new research shows.

A poll on community spirit and attitudes to green spaces during lockdown finds nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of us think protecting and enhancing green spaces should be a higher priority after the lockdown.

Only 11 per cent of us feel less connected to our community during lockdown, 40 per cent feel more connected and one in three (33 per cent) of 18- to 34-year-olds report having made new intergenerational connections.

The Opinium survey, commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity, and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (WI), found more than half (54 per cent) agree people are doing more to help their communities and nearly two-thirds of people (63 per cent) feel protecting local green spaces should be a higher priority for the government when lockdown ends.

Cllr Caroline Reeves

GBC leader Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas), said: “This lockdown has indeed made many more people appreciate green spaces. I know residents have discovered through walking on different routes that there are many pockets of green in the town, and much of our countryside can be reached on foot.

“People have also had the time and the opportunity to meet and talk to their neighbours (in a socially distanced way of course) simply because they have more time to be sociable.

“Different ways of keeping in touch with people have also seen the growth of local community friendships, plus the excellent work being done by volunteers in a multitude of ways has brought people together. I hope that this will now become an important part of people’s lives and strong communities will continue to flourish.”

The Opinium results show local green spaces have been a haven for many people since lockdown measures began with:

  • The majority (53 per cent) of people saying they appreciate local green spaces more since the country adopted social distancing measures;
  • More than half (57 per cent) of us reported that the lockdown has made us more aware of the importance of these local green spaces for our mental health and wellbeing; and
  • One in three people (35 per cent) reported visiting green spaces more since the start of lockdown.

Send Church across the watermeadows.

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, said: “Our countryside and local green spaces are facing mounting pressure but the coronavirus pandemic has reminded us why the countryside next door, including our green belts, is so important to ordinary people.

“More people are aware of the health and wellbeing benefits that access to green spaces delivers and support for protecting and enhancing these after lockdown is impossible for the government to ignore. Going back to business as usual is not an option. The government must use the forthcoming planning reforms to protect these precious spaces and also go further by investing in their enhancement.

“Many of us feared lockdown would mean more people isolated, lonely and cut off from their communities and the outside world. But these results have turned these notions on their head. While we are physically distanced, many of us are more connected than ever and people are helping each other in their communities – with different age groups connecting more – which is truly inspiring to see.”

Paddle boarding between Stoke and Bower’s Locks.

The high-profile volunteering and fundraising initiatives, including the remarkable fundraising by Captain Tom Moore, are clearly not isolated acts of kindness and community spirit. The poll has also uncovered an outpouring of community spirit and feeling of togetherness, revealing:

  • Only 11 per cent of us feel less connected to our community at this time. Forty per cent feel more connected and 42 per cent just as connected as before;
  • More than half (54 per cent) of us agree people are doing more to help their community under lockdown;
  • Two in five people (42 per cent) are communicating more with people in their local community and one in six people (19 per cent) communicating at least twice as much with their neighbours as before; and
  • The top five ways in which we’re connecting more under lockdown are:
    • 1. “Clap for the NHS” on a Thursday evening (49 per cent)
    • 2. Saying hello at the front door (37 per cent)
    • 3. Social media (36 per cent)
    • 4. Phone calls (33 per cent)
    • 5. Seeing people in person and at a safe distance in communal spaces such as parks (29%)

Intergenerational connections

  • Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of people reporting they have made new connections with different age groups in their local community;
One in three (33  per cent) 18- to 34-year-olds saying they have made new intergenerational connections; and
  • For all those who have made these new connections, more than two thirds (69 per cent) are optimistic these new relationships will continue once lockdown is over.

Lynne Stubbings, chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, said: “It is wonderful to see how communities have become more connected in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is clear that we are cherishing our local communities now more than ever, by supporting our neighbours and those who are vulnerable, and getting out in the fresh air at our local green spaces.

“The WI has always thrived through difficult times and for more than 100 years it has remained at the heart of its communities, supporting those in need, and today’s lockdown is no different.

Community spirit on display in Effingham for VE Day

“WI members across the country have stepped forward to help others throughout the crisis, whether by arranging free book deliveries, sewing for the NHS, supporting food banks, or creating craft kits for families home-schooling their children. These acts of kindness and solidarity have spread positivity, alleviated loneliness, and lifted people’s spirits through what has been an incredibly challenging time.

“Throughout this crisis, green spaces have also been a lifeline to people dealing with the impact of lockdown. So many of us have discovered pockets of green right on our doorsteps – a chance to get out in the fresh air, exercise, and support our mental wellbeing, which has been an oasis in difficult times.

“Yet too many of these places are threatened – by pollution, litter or the impacts of climate change. As we look to rebuild after the crisis, we must make sure that we continue to cherish our communities and this new sense of connectedness – both to each other and to our local environment.”

Other local politicians invited to respond to the findings said:

Brian Creese

Brian Creese, chairman, Guildford Labour Party: “The findings of this poll do not surprise us at all. After decades of being told there is no such thing as society, this unprecedented crisis has reminded us all that there is ONLY society. Just weeks ago this government was telling us that we should value people by their earnings, and restrict immigration to those with highly paid jobs.

“We have all been reminded that key workers are those on the front line who are often not well rewarded. People have volunteered to help in their communities in their tens of thousands, and many are now discovering the wonderful green and open spaces in and around our town. Guildford Labour believes it is important to develop green spaces where people live, not just in the surrounding countryside.

“And we must not allow our air to again become as toxic as it was a few months ago. Guildford Labour feels strongly that however society looks after the virus, we must recognise the importance of access to green space and open countryside, and ensure the new Local Plan enhances and supports our local communities. We must keep and enhance public green assets, and modernise public transport to be cleaner and safer.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch): “I think the Covid crisis has caused us to re-evaluate many things, not least of which is the abundance of stunning countryside on our doorsteps. Landscapes we have taken for granted now appear like oases in the desert of the lockdown, and the youngest generation is

learning to appreciate the beautiful simplicity of an hour’s walk amongst nature. We need to find positives in this crisis and I hope this connection to our natural environment is one such legacy.”

Cllr Susan Parker

Susan Parker (GGG, Send): “This CPRE poll shows us what we all know, really, green spaces are vital for our mental and physical health. We are part of the natural world. We all have a responsibility to protect the planet, and a personal responsibility to protect that part of the planet closest to us.

“We mustn’t see the environment as just protecting rainforests and reducing the carbon footprint. Our relationship with the natural world is vital to our very existence. I hope that everyone now recognises this responsibility. Our local meadows, downland and ancient woodland are precious and must be protected, for all our sakes.”

Alastair Smith, chairman, Guildford Society: “The CPRE poll is interesting and encouraging.  It is supported by anecdotal evidence of people becoming interested during the lockdown, in birdlife, bikes and walking).   Guildford borough has some wonderful green spaces, which should be protected for future generations.  Rumours of central government plans to revamp planning laws are not encouraging.

“It must also be recognised there are significant areas that have poor provision.  As development and redevelopment occurs, we must improve green space provision.  Green space and active transport have vital parts to play in supporting a healthy community.”

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Responses to Community Spirit Flourishes in Lockdown As We Re-discover Our Green Spaces

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    May 12, 2020 at 8:53 am

    This is precisely why the Burpham Neighbourhood Plan designated so many local green spaces.

  2. Leigh Carter Reply

    May 12, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    It would be nice to continue to enjoy our green spaces but this is made difficult by the strange decision of SCC and GBC to close all country car parks giving access to local green areas eg Chantries, Newlands Corner, Puttenham Common. Surely they are all much better places for us to walk at the moment and places where we can more easily observe social distancing rules.

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