We spoke to Liz Gore at Hertfordshire County Council about their new cross-country web project.
ParksHerts is a mobile-first website providing a single information point for over 140 of Hertfordshire’s parks and open spaces ranging from recreation grounds through to woodlands and award winning flagship parks, irrespective of administrative ownership. It provides a way for people to discover and enjoy sites they know and those that they haven’t yet discovered, whilst also supporting people to make outdoor exercise part of their everyday lives.
ParksHerts originated from the Hertfordshire Association of Cultural Officers Parks Officers Group (HACO) which recognised that there was a lack of consistent, accessible and good quality online information about the County’s parks and open spaces. Hertfordshire has a wealth of fantastic open space to offer residents but online information was often hidden within local authority websites. This is a particular challenge for a county such as Hertfordshire where park ownership is spread across a three tiered administrative system.
The County also faces challenges to address the levels of obesity and physical activity within the population. Despite being a healthy county overall, 62.8% of Hertfordshire adults (2013-15) and 36.7% of children in year 6 (2015) were classified as overweight or obese with only 58.7% of adults classed as physically active (2015). (source: Public Health England 2016).
The ParksHerts project was developed in response to these challenges, drawing on the wealth of evidence linking access to green space with improved health and wellbeing.
One recent study undertaken by King’s College London, landscape architects J & L Gibbons and art foundation Nomad Projects, found that being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birdsong, seeing the sky, and feeling in contact with nature were associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing (BioScience 2018) whilst another 2011 study found that increasing access to parks and open spaces could reduce NHS costs of treating obesity by more than £2bn (Groundwork 2011).
Funding for the project was secured from Hertfordshire County Council Public Health, ten Hertfordshire District/ Borough Councils and one Parish Council. Support from partners has come both in financial terms but also in staff time. Public Health, Communications and Parks teams have and continue to play a key role in the development and success of the site.
To remove barriers to access it is important that the site is as user friendly as possible. To support this, a range of online and face-to-face consultation was undertaken before, during and after its development.
The outcomes of this consultation were integral to the site’s development and resulted in a number of key features: The site has a simple and attractive design with generic appeal. It was important to move away from “council speak” and make the site about promoting the parks themselves rather than their owners.