How the London Boroughs of Camden and Islington are using Green Spaces to deliver better health outcomes for residents

The London Boroughs of Camden and Islington collaborated on a Joint Parks for Health Strategy which aimed to value local green spaces and ensure that all their residents can access, enjoy, and utilise public parks.


The London Boroughs of Camden and Islington collaborated on a Joint Parks for Health Strategy which aimed to value local green spaces and ensure that all their residents can access, enjoy, and utilise public parks.

Group of collaborators in a meeting room in roundtables


Camden and Islington councils began their journey to considering the role that green spaces can play in health and wellbeing by setting corporate priorities centred on early intervention and prevention. Camden’s Corporate Plan identified that:

‘it is better and less expensive to prevent problems and intervene early – this is a key principle for us’

A priority of early intervention and prevention is mirrored within Islington’s Strategic Plan, which stated:

‘The evidence is clear that early intervention and prevention is the most effective way to improve outcomes for people at all ages.’

Both London Boroughs face vast health inequalities within their populations. Camden has the third highest prevalence of serious mental health illnesses in London and in Islington has the highest recorded prevalence of depression in London

A Friends of the Earth Report identified Camden and Islington residents as having some of the lowest access to green spaces in the country, with 29% of Islington’s residents and 39% of Camden’s residents having no direct access to green space.

The similarity between the Boroughs’ corporate priorities, and deprivation amongst its citizens, led to the previously independent green services teams to consider how a collaborative approach could be used to improving residents’ access to green spaces.


Timeline of Camden and Islington

The project

The Camden and Islington Parks for Health project was developed to build a strong link between both councils’ responses to health inequalities and accessible green spaces. Alongside this, they were selected to take part in the Future Parks Accelerator programme to support delivery of the project and were awarded an initial grant of £667,000 in 2019.

To develop the Parks for Health vision, the green spaces teams worked on a co-design process which involved engagement with local environmental groups and health and social care organisations. Many of these were working closely within the community but hadn’t previously worked alongside the council. Furthermore, the team worked internally with their public health teams to bring together data on communities and highlight key groups to target.

The team brought relevant organisations together at a roundtable in March 2020.They worked to explore what a healthy park looks like and consider the best effective ways to engage and break down barriers to accessing parks. Following the design process, several projects were trialled. This included green social prescribing, wildlife sessions for children in the community, and guided nature walks.  

Following on from this work, the Camden and Islington Parks for Health Strategy was published in July 2022. The strategy identifies a shared vision based on three key principles:

  1. People in the communities will spend more time in the borough’s green spaces which will lead to improved health and reduced health inequality
  2. Increased investment in their parks and green spaces year-on-year
  3. Parks will be recognised as exemplar spaces for health and mental wellbeing

Camden and Islington councils will use the strategy to guide and take forward its approach to green spaces with their websites regularly updated with upcoming events and activities in their parks.

Challenges and solutions

Managing a changing project delivery team:

Camden and Islington began considering the role that green spaces could play prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The diversion of teams, particularly the public health team, to respond to COVID-19 created a dilemma for the project team and risked the project being delayed. However, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns brought the importance of greenspaces to the forefront of both the national and local agenda, so this project remained a priority.

It also prompted conversations with existing teams on how their roles could be re-imagined to support greater use of parks. For example, dialogue with the gardening teams allowed the Boroughs to shift from a focus on the maintenance of local green parks and spaces to looking at ways to engage with volunteers and communities to improve the green spaces together.

Empowering and engaging local communities:

Camden and Islington had a significant amount of policy research which supported a need for greater public engagement in their local green spaces, but the main challenge was how to engage with local communities.

The councils trialled green social prescribing as a pathway to empower individuals who do not traditionally use green spaces to join an activity and used their existing resources to fund a marketing officer. They created a green social prescribing role, with the work spread amongst members on the team, which included working alongside existing organisations such as Age UK  who invited user groups to trial activities and engage with participants to encourage them to join the events.

Furthermore, the employment of a dedicated communications officer using project funding proved invaluable. This allowed Camden and Islington to promote existing activities within the parks and share them on social media, using representative messaging, to reach and reflect a larger range of potential participants. The success of the communications role led to the funding being built permanently into future staffing models.  

Impacts and lessons learned

Testing and trialling is fundamental to the success of a project:

While the COVID-19 pandemic limited the councils’ capacity to trial green social prescribing, the lessons learned from trials that were held proved vital to the success of the programme. Most importantly, they highlighted that patience is fundamental when engaging with individuals to encourage use of the boroughs’ green spaces. Often, it may take several attempts with an individual to encourage them to attend an event. Over 450 referrals have been made by Age UK Islington since 2019 and evaluation from the events has revealed improved friendship connections, mental wellbeing, and increased confidence in outdoor spaces amongst those prescribed use of the borough’s parks.

Utilise existing enthusiasm:

Camden and Islington stress the importance of engaging with wider organisations to target groups which may underutilise public green spaces. They found that many community members were already enthusiastic about wanting to conduct activities and events in the green spaces. However, many were uncertain of rules such as when the local authority needed to be informed about an event, or what health and safety measures needed to be in place, so often avoided hosting them. The councils found that better communication and clearer rules empowered communities to host their own events in green spaces.

Advice for other authorities

Keep up momentum

The existing emphasis on early intervention and prevention, particularly regarding health inequality, within their corporate plans allowed the councils to facilitate discussion with members and senior officers. While the agenda shifted during the pandemic, the green spaces team were able to use the heightened importance of green spaces to ensure Parks for Health remained a core part of the agenda.  

Balancing biodiversity with access

Camden and Islington recommend that to reconsider how urban green spaces can function for both nature recovery and reduce health inequalities, other authorities should consider re-framing what a healthy park looks like and needs. For example, they recommend considering the benefits to nature of human interventions and how this can be essential to ecosystems.