Surge in appreciation for green spaces and community spirit in South East England amid lockdown

7th May 2020
  • A new poll on community spirit and attitudes to green spaces during lockdown finds nearly two-thirds (63%) of us think protecting and enhancing green spaces should be a higher priority after the lockdown.
  • In South East England the number is even higher, with 68% wanting to see better protected green spaces.
  • Only 11% of us feel less connected to our community during lockdown, while 40% feel more connected and one in three (33%) of 18 to 34-year-olds report having made new intergenerational connections.

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, according to new research released today. Commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (WI), and carried out by Opinium, the poll has found that over half (54%) agree that people are doing more to help their communities and nearly two-thirds of people (63%) feel that protecting local green spaces should be a higher priority for the government when lockdown ends.

In South East England, that percentage is higher, with 68% of people wanting their local green space to better protected. The results show local green spaces have been a haven for many people since lockdown measures began with:

  • The majority (59%) of those living in the South East saying they appreciate local green spaces more since the country adopted social distancing measures;
  • Almost two thirds (63%) reported that the lockdown has made them more aware of the importance of these local green spaces for our mental health and wellbeing; and
  • Almost half of those in the region (42%) reported visiting green spaces more since the start of lockdown.

Dee Haas, Chair of the local CPRE in Hampshire, 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 all of us. 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.

In Hampshire, we’re campaigning for new Green Belt to protect the countryside north of the urban areas of South Hampshire. The results of this research show that the majority of people support this and want to see better protection for our valuable and life-enhancing green spaces.

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 that lockdown would see more people isolated, lonely and cut off from their communities and the outside world. However, today’s 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.”

It is clear that some of the high-profile volunteering and fundraising initiatives, including the remarkable fundraising by Captain Tom, are not isolated acts of kindness and community spirit. The poll has also uncovered an outpouring of community spirit and feeling of togetherness in the South East, revealing that:

  • Only 8% feel less connected to their community at this time – 46% feel more connected and 40% just as connected as before;
  • Over half (56%) of those in the region agree that people are doing more to help their community under lockdown;
  • Almost half of people (47%) are communicating more with people in their local community and one in four people (26%) communicating at least twice as much with their neighbours as before; and
  • The top five ways in which those in the South East are connecting more under lockdown are:
  • ‘Clap for the NHS’ on a Thursday evening (51%)
  • Saying hello at the front door (38%)
  • Social media (34%) and seeing people in person and at a safe distance in communal spaces like parks (34%)
  • Phone calls (31%)
  • Through texts (30%)

Intergenerational connections have also been impacted:

  • Over a quarter (28%) of those living in the South East have reported making new connections with different age groups in their local community;
  • One in three (33%) 18 to 34-year-olds saying they have made new intergenerational connections;
  • For all those who have made these new connections, four out of five people (80%) are optimistic these new relationships will continue once lockdown is over.

Lynne Stubbings, Chair, 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 over one hundred years it has remained at the heart of its communities, supporting those in need – and today’s lockdown is no different. 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. It is these acts of kindness and solidarity which 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.”

A full breakdown of the results can be found here:

Research shows that most people want to see better protection for valuable green spaces, like here in Bishopstoke, Eastleigh
Children climbing in the New Forest