One of the most difficult aspects of the current situation for my family and countless others has been the loss of liberty to access the green spaces we usually take for granted. The parks and common land that surround our primary residence, and the lakes, fells and mountains of the Lake District which we frequently visit have all been off limits the last few months as we were all restricted to one outing per day for exercise and instructed to remain local. As lockdown restrictions have been eased and we are all now permitted to spend more time outdoors engaging in some of the activities we have missed, the freedom we once felt accessing these various green spaces has not completely returned as they are inevitably more populated, subject to different use and are policed by officials and other users for breaches of the rules.
Access for all to these green spaces however is more important now than ever as the Office for National Statistics has reported that 12% of households in Great Britain “has no access to a private or shared garden”. Throughout the first weeks of shutdown many public green spaces, especially within large cities were under threat of closure and Brockwell Park in South London did close its gates briefly following a particularly busy day. I can only imagine the anxiety threats of closure caused to many as these spaces provide exercise and play, fresh air and freedom, and interaction with others whilst observing distancing rules. My family is lucky, as whilst not being able to access the places we have previously enjoyed we are in the privileged position of having a small garden which afforded us more freedom. As restrictions have eased however my husband in particular has uncharacteristically experienced an increased fear of visiting these once loved spaces as we all try to navigate the ‘new normal’ and process how to cope with living our lives amidst a fear of not only contracting the virus but also interacting in these spaces with other users whilst not breaching social distancing rules. This fear has led us to explore many of the numerous Public Bridleways and paths which criss-cross the surrounding countryside and we have discovered that our once urban world nudges a green realm exposing us to sights, sounds and opportunities we were unaware of on our relative doorstop.
Over the last week we have driven short distances, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes at most to engage in these new green spaces. One excellent find has been a small wood accessed from a moderately busy road which connects several villages. Once parked in a short layby next to a small unassuming entrance we enter a world of green which can feel like Lucy stumbling through the wardrobe into Narnia; birdsong engulfs the ears as the canopy of green above draws you further along the path. This path only lasts for possibly a quarter of a mile and then crosses farmland coming to a halt a few fields on as it comes to a main road but in all directions are other paths which we have yet to explore. We have also discovered the ‘Three Shires Way’ passes close to where we live and touches the “county boundaries of Bucks, Beds and Northants” culminating 49 miles away in Cambridge offering plenty of opportunities to access even more paths and bridleways.
The lockdown of the last few months has taken much from us all and we must wait and see if the ‘normal’ of the past ever returns, but one thing that has become apparent is that green spaces must be available to all. When access is denied these spaces become politicised, demarcating social and economic class signalling that we are not in this crisis all together as we do not share the same quality of life green spaces provide mentally and physically. It is a privilege to have access to a personal garden, to have the luxury of driving to National Parks and to access the Public Bridleways and it is one I will never again take for granted.