Designing and Engineering Soundscapes To enable Restorative Environments for Sustainable Societies (DeStress)

Lead Research Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Department Name: Sch of Energy, Geosci, Infrast & Society

Abstract

Mental health issues and stress is rising, with a substantial economic cost on society; in 2011, the UK Department of Health reported mental health costs of £105billion. People need time and restorative environments to help them recover from stressors and deter mental health problems. However, as reported by the World Health Organisation, increased environmental noise exposure in urban environments is having a detrimental impact on people's mental health and wellbeing. Urban sounds can at times be positively evaluated and support restoration, but little is known on how to design environments to create these positive 'soundscapes'. Although research into soundscapes and cognitive restoration is growing, there are still disconnects with applied built environment design. This project innovatively integrates these different disciplinary areas of research. It draws on the disparate existing information to create a tool to advance knowledge on the relationships between these areas, thereby providing a means to inform evidence-based designs. The aim of the project is to develop a visual soundscape simulator of urban quiet and calm areas to assist in Designing and Engineering Soundscapes To enable Restorative Environments for Sustainable Societies (DeStress).

The visual soundscape simulator (VSS) will be both informative and a methodological research instrument. Novel features of the VSS include the presentation of audio and visual stimuli, the inclusion of positive and negative sounds, the ability to adapt the scene and sound sources to represent multiple virtual built environment sites, and the mapping of soundscape health outcomes. It will provide the opportunity to determine the objective (independently measured) and subjective (self-report) health outcomes of exposure to different built environment infrastructure and their resultant soundscapes.

Project DeStress will be structured by four Work Packages (WP) to meet the aim, each producing research outcomes with lon term public and social, industrial, economic, policy, and academic impact. WP1 will establish any disconnects between council and public identified quiet and calm urban areas. This will aid policy guidance for identification methods of quiet and calm areas, which currently only include sound levels and physical size. WP2 creates pre-rendered audio-visual virtual simulations of real and engineered quiet and calm urban areas, and then provides a soundscape map including typical health outcomes from those who experience such a place. This provides acoustic consultants, contractors, planners, and environmental health officers with evidence-informed design outcomes to assist with their planning decisions. Usability testing in WP3 will ensure the VSS is user-friendly with appropriate soundscape map visualisations and clear graphical interfaces to engage the public and practitioner end-users. Public accessibility of the online tool helps inform the public about the impact of urban soundscapes on their health and wellbeing. This empowers them with knowledge for campaigning for appropriate preservation of restorative soundscapes through contributing to Local Community Planning Partnerships. Finally, validation tests in WP4 of the accessible online VSS will determine the accuracy of the tool and will enable experimental research into increased understanding of the relationship between soundscapes, restoration, and the design of built environments. This will assist the development of sustainable urban healthy societies.

Planned Impact

Potential beneficiaries of project DeStress' research outcomes include acoustic consultants (such as project partners Apex Acoustics and Sharps Redmore), public organisations (such as project partners the Noise Abatement Society), local government planners, environmental health officers, and policy makers, as well as academic researchers (see academic beneficiaries). In the longer term members of the public will benefit, through continued access to quiet and calm areas. Beneficiaries will be interested in the initial outcomes of accessing the developed tool as well as the scientific outcomes as a result of further research using the tool.

Public and Social Impact: The Case for Support highlights the health implications of environmental noise on the public; access to green areas and 'quiet sides' within residential buildings, which quiet areas provide, help reduce levels of noise annoyance and avoid noise-induced sleep deprivation. Research by the PI, and recently confirmed by other researchers, has shown the important role that soundscapes can have in creating restorative environments. These places provide cognitive, physical, and emotional recovery for people suffering from stress and fatigue, and help avoid the onset of such problems. The outcomes of this project will help the identification and preservation of candidate quiet and calm areas by city council representatives, thereby indirectly impacting on people's quality of life, health, and wellbeing. The online tool will help empower the public by raising their awareness and knowledge of the impacts of environmental sounds on their health. This knowledge can then be utilised at local Community Planning Partnerships. This directly benefits public organisations concerned with noise, such as project partners the Noise Abatement Society, whose objective "is to raise awareness of, and find solutions to, noise pollution".

Economic Impact: Poor health has a large financial cost to society. For example, estimates include European Union businesses losing £77billion a year due to depression, whilst the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work provide reports of UK work-related stress costing an estimated £7 to £10billion in 2001 and resulting in 10.4 million lost working days in 2011/2012. Restorative environments, including quiet and calm areas, help provide a refuge away from environmental or work-related stressors, thus helping to prevent fatigue, stress, and burnout. The main outcome of this project is a tool to help understand the implications of urban soundscapes on people's stress and ability to restore, with the intention of helping to maintain and provide quiet and calm areas. Project outcomes will therefore indirectly benefit businesses and the UK's economy in the long term.

Industrial Impact: In addition to the above economic impacts that industry will receive, individual acoustic consultants could directly benefit by using the developed project tool as an aid to inform clients about the value of good soundscape design and the preservation of quiet and calm areas. It will validate the importance of their work and necessary involvement in masterplanning at the early stages of new developments and increase understanding of the interaction between human-environment relationships. In the longer term, the tool will help innovation and creativity in architectural acoustics for external building products, thus helping economic growth in this market sector.

Policy Makers: An initial project outcome from this study includes the public identifying quiet and calm areas within a sample of UK cities. Current identification systems do not involve the public but as reported in the Case for Support, calls exist for including such subjective evaluations. Through comparisons of public and local council identified quiet and calm areas, policy makers can make evidence-informed decisions regarding the necessity for involving the public in future identification processes.

Publications

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Payne S (2019) Exploring the Relationship between Urban Quiet Areas and Perceived Restorative Benefits in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

 
Description Although the research project is still active and further analysis is still to be conducted, it is becoming clear that the public think of quiet, calm, and tranquil areas differently to some governmental approaches for identifying quiet areas as part of their noise action plans. For instance, Quiet Areas identified by the public can be small little places that offer relative quiet compared to the surrounding urban environment, while in Scotland the requirements for proposing Candidate Quiet Areas predominantly identify large areas. The appreciation for these places is also reflected in the self-reported health and wellbeing impacts achieved from visiting these 'quiet' places, as discovered through the research in-situ case studies. Positively, there is also some overlap between local council identified Candidate Quiet Areas and publically identified Quiet Areas.
Exploitation Route The outcome from these initial findings have already resulted in conversations with local and governmental officials about their identification strategies. It is hoped further analysis of the results, will help council identification of quiet areas become inline with public identification and be associated with health and wellbeing benefits the places can provide.
Sectors Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description DeStress submission to consultation on Scotland's draft Noise Action Plans
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
URL https://consult.gov.scot/environment-forestry/consultation-on-draft-noise-action-plans/
 
Description Environmental Protection Scotland SNAG member 2018 onwards
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL https://www.ep-scotland.org.uk/policy-focus/noise/
 
Description Tuition Fee Doctoral Scholarship
Amount £12,780 (GBP)
Organisation Heriot-Watt University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 08/2021
 
Description Chaired symposium at IAPS July 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Chaired a symposium entitled "Innovations and new methods in restorative environments research". This involved opening the session, introducing each speaker, and ensuring things ran to time. About 50 people attended the session which involved four speakers. The session resulted in numerous questions and a reflection on how restorative environments research has evolved over time and its potential future directions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://iaps2018.com/
 
Description Conference Seminar presentation at IAPS July 2018 - Project DeStress 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited Conference Presentation at the International Association of People-Environment Studies (IAPS) in Rome, Italy on the 10th July (conference was 8th to 13th July). The presentation was entitled "Project DeStress: Identifying quiet and calm areas in urban cities." About 50 people attended the presentation, resulting in a number of questions at the end. People were engaged in the presentation and in addition to the questions, it resulted in individuals approaching me afterwards for more information and discussion with them about the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://iaps2018.com/
 
Description DeStress EP Scotland interviews and articles to members April, Sept, Oct 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A series of notices about the project were printed (and tweeted) in the Environment Protection Scotland Newsletter which was sent out digitally to 339 members who largely work for Scottish local councils (Environmental Health Officers), Scottish Government, as well as general public or organisations who are signed up as members. In addition a 4 page interview with Dr Sarah Payne about the project was included as a digital link. It raised awareness of the project to wider council members who are responsible for some of the decisions relating to the project topic (e.g. preserving quiet areas, understanding noise management and soundscape approaches for improving environment conditions for communities).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.ep-scotland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/DeStress-Project-Newsletter.pdf
 
Description DeStress Facebook page 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Facebook page was set up in November 2017 before the project funding began to help with engagement and awareness of the project.
It was a vital source of reference during the BBC Sheffield interview, who largely engage with their audience online via Facebook. It has also generated interest and posts being shared and liked by related International Organisations (e.g. Belgium).
The page has been followed a few times and individual posts have been seen and liked.
It also resulted in a Women's magazine contacting me about the project for a potential article.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
URL https://www.facebook.com/DeStressRestore/
 
Description DeStress Invited talk to EP Scotland SNAG meeting Sept 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited to present about 'Project DeStress' to let the group (Environment Protection Scotland's Scottish Noise Advisory Group') know of my work. It produced much discussion, sharing of information and advice.
It also resulted in me being invited to become a member of the advisory group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description DeStress Press Release and resulting articles April 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact In May 2018 a press release about the project was distributed by Heriot-Watt University. It included information about the project and ways to participate.
It resulted in numerous inquiries about the project including BBC Radio Sheffield, and STV2 (reported elsewhere), as well as an article on the Heriot-Watt website and newsletter sent out to all staff and students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.hw.ac.uk/about/news/uk-residents-can-help-destress-cities-by.htm
 
Description DeStress Project Partner Meeting - September 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project Partner meeting was held with one of the four project partners.
Discussed the sharing of data, and simultaneously collected data in one of the three case study sites for part of Work Package 1.
Discussed a contribution to the Project Partner's book they are writing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description DeStress Project Partner Meeting Feb 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project Partner meeting with two of the four project partners was held.
A discursive presentation was first provided updating them on DeStress activities and results from Work Package 1.
This was followed by showcasing the environment and soundscape simulator under development for Work Package 2 to get feedback.
Future dissemination opportunities were discussed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description DeStress Project Partner Meeting and collaboration Feb 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Project Partner meeting was held with one of the four project partners who is based in a Finnish University. I was hosted by her University for 4 days, where we discussed the project each day, met with the developer of one of the software tools I used for study participation, and engaged in discussions with her postgraduate students and visiting researchers.
During my time in Finland I successfully created the questionnaire and digital version of the questionnaire for Work Package 1 study.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description DeStress Twitter account 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Project DeStress twitter account was set up in October 2017 before the project funding began to help with engagement and awareness of the project.
Tweets are regularly posted updating people about the project, who is involved, what's been happening, how to participate. In addition thoughts about environmental noise and soundscapes are posted along with retweets of other people's related tweets.
It has resulted in wider knowledge of the project, international interest in the project (despite recruiting participants within UK cities) and discussions with related organisations and individuals.
There are currently 268 followers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
URL https://twitter.com/DeStressRestore
 
Description DeStress article in The Ecologist July 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact On the 2nd July 2018 Brendan Rogers the editor of The Ecologist online worldwide magazine wrote an article about project DeStress and the study. It was entitled "New survey to record the sound of our cities", and included a link to the survey. They tweeted it to their 135K followers. It is likely this resulted in further participation in the study and increased awareness of the topic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://theecologist.org/2018/jul/02/new-survey-record-sound-our-cities
 
Description DeStress blog post on EPUK website May 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact On the 23rd May 2018 Environmental Protection UK website placed a blog post by Dr Sarah Payne about the project, and participation in the study. It was during their Noise Action Week (May 21st-25th). The post was also tweeted widely to their 1.9k followers. It raised awareness of the project with Environmental Health Officers across the UK and also with the general public. The post was also advertised widely via twitter.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.noiseactionweek.org.uk/project-destress-mapping-quiet-urban-outdoor-areas
 
Description DeStress interview on BBC Radio Sheffield April 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact On the 25th April 2018 I appeared on the Howard Pressman Drive time show on BBC Radio Sheffield. They conducted an interview with me during the show which was followed by a listener phone in during the programme on the topic, where people stated their quiet places in South Yorkshire. They also included a summary of the project in their hourly news at 4pm and 5pm. It was also online in iplayer for the following week but is no longer available.
It resulted in the public engaging with the topic via the phone in, and thus raised awareness of the importance of positive soundscapes. It resulted in people signing up to participate in the study. The Sheffield candidate for the Green Party (politics) Natalie Bennett, also tweeted about the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0633yrx
 
Description DeStress interview on STV2 Edinburgh News May 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact on the 21st April 2018 STV2 Edinburgh News showed a ten minute segment on the project. This included an interview with Dr Sarah Payne about the purpose of the project. It was filmed at the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh (one of the identified quiet areas), and included vox pops with users of the gardens about their quiet areas. The Leader of the Council, SNP Councillor Adam McVey was quoted as saying it was a valuable topic and research to be conducted. The ten minute news article went out at 6pm and 11pm on TV. It could also be viewed up to 24 hours later on their website, but is no longer available. https://player.stv.tv/episode/3nif/stv-news-edinburgh/ (no longer available)
The news article resulted in further participation in the study and increased awareness of the project and importance of quiet areas with the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description DeStress magazine article in Positive.News August 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact On the 23rd August 2018 Positive.News online magazine published an article by Marianne Brown titled "A quiet life: project will map calm spaces to explore noise's impact on health", They tweeted it a number of times to their 41.8K followers. Participation in the study and awareness of the project is likely to have occurred
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.positive.news/lifestyle/a-quiet-life-project-will-map-calm-spaces-to-explore-noises-impa...
 
Description DeStress promoted by Apex Acoustics April 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project Partner Apex Acoustics published a blog post in April 2018 about their involvement in the project. It will have raised awareness of the project and encouraged participation in the online survey.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.apexacoustics.co.uk/project-destress-heriot-watt-university/
 
Description DeStress promotion at John Connell Awards October 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Project DeStress team were invited to the Houses of Parliament for the Noise Abatement Society's annual John Connell Awards. The event included a number of awards, including a soundscape award, and was attended by Ministers of Parliament, Local Council, and Acoustic practitioners, representatives of the Institute of Acoustics, and Industry. During the awards and opening speeches Dr Sarah Payne, Project DeStress and Heriot-Watt University were mentioned as furthering understanding and research in the area. We also had a one page article about the project within the A5 booklet that was handed out to all attendees.
The event raised the profile of the project, the University, and resulted in many discussions with people in attendance at the event, with some potential routes for further collaboration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://noiseabatementsociety.com/john-connell-awards/john-connell-awards-2018/
 
Description DeStress website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Project DeStress website was launched on the 9th November 2017 in advance of the project funding starting to help build up engagement and help with recruitment.
It provides information about the project, how to get involved with the project and participate in studies, and bi-monthly blog posts to inform people what is happening. It also shows the twitter feed and provides contact details.
It has resulted in people interested to find out more about the project, a site for participants to remain engaged in the project, and for collaborators to become involved.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
URL https://destress.hw.ac.uk/
 
Description Destress promotion by Sharps Redmore 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project Partner Sharps Redmore published a blog post in April 2018 about their involvement in the project. It will have raised awareness of the project and encouraged participation in the online survey.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.sharpsredmore.co.uk/blog/post/tranquility-study-together-with-heriot-watt-university
 
Description Presentation at RBGE-HWU symposium March 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact I co-organised a symposium between Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh staff and researchers as well as Heriot-Watt University colleagues, which was intended to showcase shared research interests and facilitate collaboration. I also presented a talk entitled "Valuing nature and quiet spaces across the ages and cultures". It was attended by about 20 people and facilitated discussions during the breaks and discussion time. A potential joint research post between the two organisations is being discussed. In addition a number of potential future research collaborations have evolved from the symposium and involvement in MSc teaching by RBGE for Heriot-Watt University was also discussed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description TUI seminar on DeStress Feb 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A seminar presentation was given to The Urban Institute staff and postgraduate students at Heriot-Watt University. It was titled "Need to DeStress? Could the design of future urban soundscapes help you to recover?" It presented the aim and purpose of the project, the methods and initial results of work package 1, as well as showcasing the soundscape simulator and environment simulator of Work package 2. It generated many questions and some feedback to help the simulator development. It was praised for the effective use of current technology to explore an important topic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019