GroundsWell: Community-engaged and Data-informed Systems Transformation of Urban Green and Blue Space for Population Health

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Centre for Public Health


There is strong evidence that natural environments within urban areas, such as parks, woodlands, lakes and beaches, have positive impacts on health. These urban green and blue spaces (UGBS) could be huge assets for protecting and equalising health if they were available, accessible, valued and well-used, particularly by less advantaged groups. The problem is that they are not. This is largely because the many policies, organisations and communities involved in designing, creating, managing, promoting, maintaining and using UGBS are disconnected. Also, the voices of less advantaged communities that UGBS could be helping most are either not heard or not persuasive. Perhaps as a consequence, those communities are much less likely to benefit from these spaces. We know that the UGBS we have are not the UGBS we need to make the best possible contribution to better and more equal health. GroundsWell aims to change that. We propose a new partnership - researchers working together with communities and those who currently create and control UGBS, to plan, design and manage it better so that it benefits everyone, especially those who need it most.

The main research will take place in three cities - Belfast, Edinburgh and Liverpool. These have sufficient similarities (such as large and diverse low-income communities) but also distinct features (such as geography and culture) making them, collectively, an ideal laboratory. Each city already has policies and programmes in place to improve UGBS, but there is much room for improvement. GroundsWell will take a systems approach. This means understanding the multiple and interconnecting components of policy-making, practice, perception and people which together affect the presence, location, character and use of UGBS. It also means working to transform the system so that the components function together. To do this, GroundsWell will mix co-development of new theoretical frameworks, novel data science including simulation, health economics and policy analysis, but at its heart will be community engagement and partnership. We will develop and use meaningful community engagement, co-production and citizen science to understand the system, identify how and where it is broken, and co-create solutions. We anticipate interventions aimed at how the UGBS system operates, and small-scale interventions around actual spaces and their use.

Data play an important part in understanding systems. GroundsWell will develop an accessible, trustworthy and policy-relevant system to collate, collect, house and share data on UGBS across the three cities. These data will be used to help the whole Consortium understand the UGBS there, identify possible interventions, and then assess whether they work, for whom and why, creating feedback loops to help us continually monitor, learn and adapt what we do. Novel simulation approaches will also be used to suggest interventions, and in particular what could be effective beyond the three cities. Health economics will suggest what would be best value for money.

An important part of putting actions and solutions in place is understanding if they work (or not). Evaluation of our actions and the Consortium as a whole will be undertaken in partnership with our communities, drawing on the new data system we establish, and enabling them to directly see whether and how the process has benefited them. In particular, we will assess and share our impacts on health inequalities. We are realistic about the likely scale of our impacts. Small actions within existing UGBS and local communities are unlikely to affect population level health and inequalities within our funded period. That is why we are going to focus on improving the UGBS system as a whole, laying foundations for long-term benefits. We know that the use and enjoyment of UGBS is something that adults pass on to their children. If GroundsWell can improve and equalise the role of UGBS, it will achieve a lasting impact.

Technical Summary

Urban environments are powerful contexts that influence lifelong health and wellbeing. They are not consistently nor equitably beneficial for communities, driving social inequalities in non-communicable disease (NCD). Our interdisciplinary researchers, collaborating with stakeholders and citizens, will use urban green/blue spaces (UGBS) as an exemplar to optimise innovative systems-based approaches that work with, and for, communities at high risk of NCD. We will transform systems and community approaches to create urban environments optimising health and co-benefits, while reducing inequalities. Initiating a step change in inclusive research and policy, we work towards the democratisation of research and evidence use. Communities as partners will enable delivery of optimal solutions to inform and innovate action on health inequalities and NCD prevention. Whole system mechanisms of action will be determined through interconnected work packages: 1) co-developing a systems-oriented framework of how UGBS impacts NCD; 2) agent-based modelling to simulate complex adaptive systems to explore how UGBS transformations will reduce inequalities; 3) working with communities and stakeholders to co-develop and evaluate local UGBS interventions using citizen science approaches; 4) curating a shared data repository with UGBS features valued by policy and communities, developing health and NCD indicators at multiple scales to inform and evaluate UGBS interventions; 5) generating evidence on economic impacts of UGBS interventions; 6) identifying pragmatic, systems-level actions to improve policy- and decision-making for equity and sustainability; 7) implementing a stakeholder-informed impact strategy. Our cross-cutting health inequalities theme will embed the consideration of inequalities throughout GroundsWell. Groundswell will be shaped and developed in 3 pioneer cities (Belfast, Edinburgh, Liverpool), with embedded translational mechanisms to ensure UK-wide and global reach.



Ruth Hunter (Principal Investigator)
Brendan Joseph Murtagh (Co-Investigator)
Anna Jurek-Loughrey (Co-Investigator) orcid
Aideen Maguire (Co-Investigator)
REBECCA SALLY GEARY (Co-Investigator) orcid
Sarah Rodgers (Co-Investigator)
Catharine Ward Thompson (Co-Investigator)
Natalie Clewley (Co-Investigator) orcid
Selina Katherine Wallis (Co-Investigator) orcid
Leandro Garcia (Co-Investigator) orcid
Alberto Longo (Co-Investigator)
Daithi Mac Sithigh (Co-Investigator) orcid
Simon Maskell (Co-Investigator)
Geraint Ellis (Co-Investigator) orcid
Grahame Smith (Co-Investigator)
Cornelia Guell (Co-Investigator) orcid
Dominic Bryan (Co-Investigator)
Ciaran O'Neill (Co-Investigator)
Olly Butters (Co-Investigator)
Jeremy Charles Hilton (Co-Investigator)
Benjamin Barr (Co-Investigator)
Sarah Clement (Co-Investigator) orcid
Lewis Roland Elliott (Co-Investigator) orcid
Tom Clemens (Co-Investigator)
Mark Alan Green (Co-Investigator)
Richard James Mitchell (Co-Investigator)
Rhiannon Corcoran (Co-Investigator) orcid
Iain Edward Buchan (Co-Investigator) orcid
Michael Clarke (Co-Investigator)
Sarah Louise Bell (Co-Investigator)
Benedict William Wheeler (Co-Investigator)
Frank Kee (Co-Investigator)
Timothy James Taylor (Co-Investigator)
Ruth Jepson (Co-Investigator)
John Barry (Co-Investigator)
Rebecca Lovell (Co-Investigator)
Avril Johnstone (Researcher) orcid
Ana Porroche-Escudero (Researcher) orcid
Sara Tilley (Researcher)
Emmylou Rahtz (Researcher) orcid
Charlotte Wendelboe-Nelson (Researcher) orcid
Divya Sivaramakrishnan (Researcher) orcid


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