Parks for People: the role of historic public parks for wellbeing

Ahead of next week’s publication of the evidence review on Family, Outdoor Recreation and Wellbeing we gain an insight from Jenifer White from Historic England on the historic and cultural importance of public parks, the benefits to mental health and the risk they are now under.

Public parks are used regularly by over 37 million people each year. We also know people are attracted to good quality parks.2 Parks are vital infrastructure for everyone in towns and cities offering places to meet, take time out, play and have fun.

The principles of public parks, what they offer and why we value them include:

  • free access for all
  • safe and welcoming
  • family friendly
  • attractive and interesting

Over the last 10 years awareness about the value of public parks for both physical and mental health has been growing.3  Why is Historic England, the government’s adviser for the historic environment, involved in these parks and health and wellbeing?


Parks continue to be popular. Friends playing bowls at Tynemouth Park, which was created in 1893. © Historic England

These green spaces shape the character of our towns and cities creating attractive places for people and their families to live and work.  The majority of the large public parks date from the late 19th and early 20th century. We have inherited a rich canon of public parks and gardens and these parks are of huge historic and cultural importance with some 300 designated as designed landscapes of national historic interest.

Public parks were created to offer healthy recreation for all, and in particular the working classes.  The Victorians saw recreation as offering mental and physical wellbeing, and social benefits – literally a ‘re-creation’. They realised parks could serve as ‘The Lungs’ for the cities.  The legislation for the new parks is embedded in the Victorian Health Acts and the development of public parks is very much interrelated with concerns about the welfare of employees, and civic consciousness

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