Gardens of the dead: cemeteries as spaces for nature

The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies.Percy Bysshe Shelley, Preface to Adonais (1891)

Percy Shelley’s description of the Protestant Cemetery in Rome perfectly illustrates how the cemetery, often negatively associated with death and decay, can in fact be a place where nature flourishes.

In this blog post, we highlight some of the great work being done to promote and conserve biodiversity in cemeteries, and the wider benefits of this.

Cemeteries as ‘green oases’

The importance of cemeteries as urban green spaces is often overlooked.  Relatively untouched by surrounding urban development, cemeteries often act as green oases, providing a range of important natural habitats for many different – and often rare – plant life and animals.

Indeed, as the 2000-01 Select Committee Report on Cemeteries observes:

Cemeteries support a wide range of habitats, including relict grasslands, heath, ancient and secondary woodland, scrub, hedges, ponds and flushes, as well as more artificial features such as high maintenance lawns, stands of trees, ornamental flower beds, and shrubberies. In addition, buildings, monuments, tombs and headstones, made from a variety of rocks, can provide support for lichens, mosses and ferns, as well as providing geological interest. A large number of rare species of trees, plants, fungi, invertebrates, reptiles, birds and mammals are found in cemeteries. Cemeteries are often designated as local Wildlife Sites, and sometimes as Nature Reserves.

Green space such as that provided by cemeteries, churchyards and other burial sites is important for a number of reasons.

From an environmental perspective, green space can help to address the negative effects of climate change, including the catastrophic decline in the number of insects. And from a human perspective, research has consistently shown the health and wellbeing benefits of access to green space.

Thus, cemeteries have an important role to play in both supporting the environment and promoting the health and wellbeing of local people.

Case study: Glasgow Necropolis

The Glasgow Necropolis is an impressive example of a Victorian garden cemetery, designed to be both inspiring and aesthetically pleasing.

Today, it is the second largest greenspace in the centre of Glasgow and provides a diverse range of habitats for wildlife, including sandy slopes, ivy-covered rock, wooded areas and unmown areas of grass and wildflowers.

The Friends of Glasgow Necropolis is a charity staffed entirely by volunteers dedicated to the conservation of the cemetery.

As well important monument conservation and restoration projects, and hosting walking tours to engage and educate the public, they also work to support the cemetery’s role as a space for nature.  One key aspect of this is recording and monitoring the flora and fauna within the cemetery.

Recent surveys have found that the Necropolis supports over 400 species of animals – including a variety of species of birds, bees, butterflies, insects and spiders, as well as deer, foxes, squirrels and rabbits, and a variety of other small mammals. Some of these species are particularly rare, including the aptly-named hoverfly, Eumerus funeralis.

There is also a wide diversity of plant life.  In total, 180 species of flowering plants and trees have been recorded in the Necropolis, and there are also at least 15 species of lichens – including one rare species (Lecania cyrtella).

Other key projects have sought to actively enhance the biodiversity of the cemetery – such as the creation of a wildflower meadow, planted with the help of local school children, and the creation of the ‘Green Man’ – a 3D grass head sculpture, in collaboration with the Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow City Council, Dennistoun Community Council, Dennistoun Conservation Society and Foundation Scotland.

There are also plans underway to create a ‘tree map’ for the Necropolis – a visual representation of the different tree species that exist within the cemetery grounds.

Engaging local communities

Across the UK there are a number of examples of other grassroots projects working to promote, conserve and engage local communities in cemeteries’ rich natural heritage.

Some notable examples include:

There have also larger-scale projects and campaigns to promote the role of cemeteries as havens for wildlife.

Caring for God’s Acre is a charity working to “support groups and individuals to investigate, care for, and enjoy burial grounds”.

For a week in June each year, they run a national ‘Love your Burial Ground’ campaign, which encourages people to connect with and celebrate their local churchyards, cemeteries and burial grounds through a variety of local events.

They are also responsible for running the ‘Beautiful Burial Grounds Project’ – a £600,000 Heritage Lottery Fund project that aims to “inspire, engage and support interest groups, communities and individuals to learn about, research and survey the natural, built and social heritage of their local burial grounds”.

The project includes collecting, collating and disseminating data on the importance of burial grounds for biodiversity, providing training events on recording biodiversity and disseminating a variety of resources such as short films, toolkits and pop ups to encourage communities to value their burial grounds as refuges for wildlife.

The Green Flag Award scheme has also been involved in the promotion of cemeteries as spaces for nature.  The scheme “recognises and rewards well managed parks and green spaces” and at present, over 80 cemeteries have received this award, including Tipton Cemetery in Sandwell, and the new Dumbarton Cemetery – the first cemetery in Scotland to be awarded a Green Flag.

Challenges to address

There are of course a number of challenges to be addressed if the full potential of cemeteries as green spaces are to be realised.

Firstly, there is a lack of data on the plant and animal species that exist within cemeteries.  This lack of ecological awareness can mean that sometimes burial ground management and maintenance can be well-intentioned, but inappropriate or damaging.  Thus, projects to record species – such as those conducted by the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis and other cemeteries’ friends groups – are incredibly important.

There is also a need to find an appropriate balance between allowing nature to flourish and ensuring that the cemetery remains accessible.  For example, there have been complaints that long grass around headstones can make it difficult for some people to visit family graves.  The Select Committee Report on Cemeteries notes that: “conservation must not be confused with neglect. A neglected cemetery does not become a haven for flora and fauna.”

Health and safety is another key consideration.  Unstable memorials can cause serious – and sometimes fatal – injuries.  Any project operating within cemeteries needs to be aware of this risk, particularly if it involves children or young people.  The Scottish Government recently published guidance for local authorities on inspecting and making safe memorials and headstones.

Other potential barriers to the use of cemeteries as green spaces include the lack of onsite facilities, such as toilets and bins, physical constraints, such as steep stairs, lack of vehicle access/wheelchair access, and concerns about visitor safety and anti-social behaviour.  These issues, however, are not insurmountable – for example, the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis have recognised these accessibility concerns and raised funds from grant applications to resurface many of the paths on the lower levels of the cemetery to make it easier for people with mobility problems to get around.

‘Living places’ that inspire

It is worth remembering too that cemeteries were set up not just to bury the dead but to stir the Muses among the living.” Fiona Green, a landscape historian, quotes John Strang‘s Necropolis Glasguensis (1831)

Cemeteries are not just for the dead.  They are in many ways ‘living places’ – havens for a range of plant and animal species in the midst of urban housing and development.  They also have an important role to play in the wider community, providing opportunities for local people to connect with and be inspired by nature.

And hopefully, after reading about the many ways in which people across the country are getting involved with nature at their own local burial grounds, you may be similarly inspired.


If you’ve enjoyed this blog, take a look at some more posts on the subject of biodiversity:

Bees and butterflies are under threat from urbanisation: here’s how city-dwellers can help

Butterflies and flowers

Image: All-a-flutter. Shutterstock.

This guest blog was written by Katherine Baldock, NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the University of Bristol.

Pollinators such as bees, hoverflies and butterflies, are responsible for the reproduction of many flowering plants and help to produce more than three quarters of the world’s crop species. Globally, the value of the services provided by pollinators is estimated at between US$235 billion and US$577 billion.

It’s alarming, then, that pollinators are under threat from factors including more intense farming, climate change, disease and changing land use, such as urbanisation. Yet recent studies have suggested that urban areas could actually be beneficial, at least for some pollinators, as higher numbers of bee species have been recorded in UK towns and cities, compared with neighbouring farmland.

To find out which parts of towns and cities are better for bees and other pollinators, our research team carried out fieldwork in nine different types of land in four UK cities: Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Edinburgh.

An easy win

Urban areas are a complex mosaic of different land uses and habitats. We surveyed pollinators in allotments (also known as community gardens), cemeteries and churchyards, residential gardens, public parks, other green spaces (such as playing fields), nature reserves, road verges, pavements and man-made surfaces such as car parks or industrial estates.

Our results suggest that allotments are good places for bees and other pollinating insects, and that creating more allotments will benefit the pollinators in towns and cities. Allotments are beneficial for human health and well-being, and also help boost local food production.

In the UK, there are waiting lists for allotments in many areas, so local authorities and urban planners need to recognise that creating more allotment sites is a winning move, which will benefit people, pollinators and sustainable food production.

Good tips for green thumbs

We also recorded high numbers of pollinating insects in gardens. Residential gardens made up between a quarter and a third of the total area of the four cities we sampled, so they’re really a crucial habitat for bees and other pollinators in cities. That’s why urban planners and developers need to create new housing developments with gardens.

But it’s not just the quantity of gardens that matters, it’s the quality, too. And there’s a lot that residents can do to ensure their gardens provide a good environment for pollinators.

Rather than paving, decking and neatly mown lawns, gardeners need to be planting flowers, shrubs and bushes that are good for pollinators. Choose plants that have plenty of pollen and nectar that is accessible to pollinators, and aim to have flowers throughout the year to provide a constant supply of food. Our research suggests that borage and lavender are particularly attractive for pollinators.

Often plants and seeds in garden centres are labelled with pollinator logos to help gardeners choose suitable varieties – although a recent study found that that ornamental plants on sale can contain pesticides that are harmful to pollinators, so gardeners should check this with retailers before buying.

Weeds are important too; our results suggest that dandelions, buttercups and brambles are important flowers for pollinators. So create more space for pollinators by mowing less often to allow flowers to grow, and leaving weedy corners, since undisturbed areas make good nesting sites.

An urban refuge

Parks, road verges and other green spaces make up around a third of cities, however our study found that they contain far fewer pollinators than gardens. Our results suggest that increasing the numbers of flowers in these areas, potentially by mowing less often, could have a real benefit for pollinators (and save money). There are already several initiatives underway to encourage local authorities to mow less often.

Ensuring there are healthy populations of pollinators will benefit the native plants and ecosystems in urban areas, as well as anyone who is growing food in their garden or allotment. Towns and cities could act as important refuges for pollinators in the wider landscape, especially since agricultural areas can be limited in terms of the habitat they provide.

It’s crucial for local authorities, urban planners, gardeners and land managers to do their bit to improve the way towns and cities are managed for pollinators. National pollinator strategies already exist for several countries, and local pollinator strategies and action plans are helping to bring together the key stakeholders in cities. Wider adoption of this type of united approach will help to improve towns and cities for both the people and pollinators that live there.The Conversation


Guest blog written by Katherine Baldock, NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow, University of Bristol. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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Scotland’s rise in human trafficking: a year on from the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy

Girl crying

By Steven McGinty

In June, the Scottish Government published its first annual progress report on their Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy.

Introduced in May 2017, the strategy was a requirement of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 and set out how Scotland would achieve its target of having zero human trafficking. This included:

  • identifying victims and supporting them to safety and recovery;
  • identifying perpetrators and disrupting their activity; and
  • addressing the conditions, both local and global, that foster trafficking and exploitation.

In addition, protecting child victims of trafficking and exploitation was identified as central to the strategy and, as such, it introduced a new Independent Child Trafficking Guardian role to assist, support, and represent children.

Progress report – human trafficking in numbers

Within the first year of the strategy 207 people were identified as potential victims (a 38% increase on the previous year). This included people facing domestic servitude, labour exploitation, and sexual exploitation. Adult males experiencing labour exploitation saw the largest increase, with instances rising by 47% from 2016.

Data showed that victims were most likely to be Vietnamese (82) or Chinese (32), with the most common European nationality being Romanian (10) –  a substantial increase from the 3 reported cases in 2016.

The report also highlighted that a new category of ‘child sexual exploitation’ had been introduced, and saw a rise in reported cases (from 12 to 52 since 2016). However, it’s unclear whether any of these were associated with human trafficking.

On release of the report, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said that he views the increased trafficking referrals as a positive sign.

This suggests that we are getting better at identifying and reporting victims of trafficking, and ensuring they receive the help and support they need.

Unseen’s modern slavery helpline

Anti-slavery charity Unseen also published a report to coincide with the first anniversary of the Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy. It provides a breakdown of callers to their 24/7 helpline (The Modern Slavery Helpline and Resource Centre) from October 2016 to March 2018.

Andrew Wallis, chief executive of Unseen, highlights that:

“It’s not a problem taking place far away that we can’t do anything about, it’s under our noses and we can arm ourselves by learning to spot the signs of slavery and report it to the helpline.”

Since the centre opened, it’s received 172 calls and 34 webforms through their online service. In total, there have been 82 reported cases of human trafficking and exploitation, with a total of 297 potential victims. These calls have led to referrals to Police Scotland, local authorities and to other charitable organisations.

From the end of August to early October 2017, the Scottish Government ran a human trafficking awareness campaign on STV (it also highlighted the helpline). This led to Unseen receiving a spike in calls during September (38) and October (21), with a total of 123 potential victims identified. The charity argues that increasing the general awareness in society is key to tackling the crime, and that as awareness has grown, calls to their helpline have increased year by year.

Labour exploitation was found to be the most common form of exploitation (50 cases), whilst sexual exploitation was second (14 cases). Workplaces such as car washes (15 cases), nail bars (11 cases) and hospitality (6 cases) were found to be where exploitation occurred the most.

In addition, potential victims were mostly likely to be Romanian (10%) or Vietnamese (6.4%), whilst British nationals were the third most prevalent group (5.7%).

Public awareness of human trafficking

In May 2018, the Scottish Government published a survey into the public’s awareness of human trafficking and exploitation. It highlighted positive findings: 87% of Scots were willing to report suspicions of human trafficking to the police (an increase from 80% in the previous year). And the public claimed to have seen the government’s marketing on the issue, including on TV (15%) and online or on social media (10%).

However, there were mixed results when it came to the public’s knowledge of industries and activities where trafficking may occur. For instance, when asked to name industries affected by trafficking, fewer people mentioned the sex industry, manual labour, and drugs than in the previous year. Yet, there was a greater awareness of other areas such as farming, the beauty industry, tourism, and catering and hospitality.

Final thoughts

The increase in reported cases and recent high-profile prosecutions have been viewed by the Justice Secretary as a step in the right direction. However, there is still plenty of work to do, and it will be important that the Scottish Government continues to raise awareness of human trafficking and exploitation, as well as fund the support necessary for victims.


The Knowledge Exchange provides information services to local authorities, public agencies, research consultancies and commercial organisations across the UK. Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in policy and practice are interesting our research team. 

The private rented sector: meeting demand and improving data

The private rented sector (PRS) has grown recently, to become a more than significant part of the housing market in the UK. A shortfall in social housing availability, and extortionate deposit costs for first time buyers has meant that demand in the private sector has grown exponentially since the 1990s, the sector now taking in clients from across the demographic spectrum.

But research has shown the demand for private rent housing is not just about finance. Increasingly, many young professionals actively choose to live in the private rented sector because they like the flexibility and locational benefits of private rents. Renting privately can mean they are able to move freely for jobs without being constrained by a mortgage, and live in city centre locations, with short commutes and close proximity to amenities like shops, restaurants, gyms and cinemas.

Despite the growing “young professional” market, the sector also (in some areas) has something of an image problem. Characterised by rogue landlords charging extortionate rents for poor quality homes, with the ability to remove tenants without reason or much notice. This negative aspect, which centres on the issue of tenant rights and security within the private sector, is something which has been discussed widely at a number of events recently, for example, at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) event we attended in Glasgow last month. It is also something which last year the Scottish Government legislated to try and mitigate.

Ensuring quality in a place people can call home

One of the other major issues that is often highlighted with PRS is the need for a minimum quality standard, bringing private lets into line with the minimum standards (supposedly) adhered to in social housing. The legislation and policing of this element of the PRS is proving more complicated to navigate, although it is something which is being discussed within the Scottish Government.

There is also the growing issue of the short-term rented sector. You cannot have failed to notice, whether you work in housing or not, the rise of sites like AirBnB and HomeAway which allow individuals to list entire properties or spare rooms out on a short-term basis. Concerns as to the growth of this market have been raised the world over. The major issues are the impact on permanent residents, who can find having new neighbours each week disconcerting, and on the local housing market more generally, as the rise of short term lets then reduces the pool available for longer term private lets. Cities like Barcelona are, however, beginning to look at how regulation and use of permits can address the negative impacts, and are being watched the world over to see if their actions will work.

How can we meet demand?

It is often said that housing is a complex flux of different sub-sectors, and that, more often than not, one cannot function effectively without the other. The PRS, the housing market and social housing are all reliant on each other to help control demand and prices and ensure that everyone, regardless of circumstance, has somewhere that they can call home.

One of the major issues with meeting demand is space and land to build; another is funding and another is understanding exactly who needs homes, and what type of homes they need. In many cases people view the private rented sector as being a stop gap for those not able to get social housing, and not able to afford a deposit for a mortgage. Although in many instances they may be right, the demographic of those renting privately now is changing, and becoming more and more varied year on year, with many young professionals and families with children now renting privately.

Understanding these trends will be key to meeting demand. In order to do this the data on housing, particularly within the private rented sector needs to improve. Research from the Urban Big Data Centre and CaCHE found that data is lacking, and that we need to improve it if we are to improve the PRS more generally.

A recent evaluation by the Welsh Government of Rent Smart Wales found that Rent Smart Wales and its database of registered landlords has provided good quality information and guidance to local authorities and landlords, as well as driving up standards within the PRS in Wales. Learning from how data collected on the Rent Smart Wales database can be maximised to provide an accessible source of information on the PRS in Wales is very important going forward, and this is something we are seeing increasingly across the sector – the desire for more data, to help those within the sector make better decisions.

What next?

A report released by LSE in June 2018 found that while the PRS has grown significantly, projections suggest that it will start to level out, and reach a state of stasis, or even decline in the coming years. Other reports have contradicted this, however, stating that unless there is an intervention or significant change in house prices, more people than ever will be forced to live within the PRS.

What does seem to be agreed upon is that better data and understanding of the sector and how to manage it is necessary and that ultimately, standards will improve across the board, with or without government intervention, but the way we view private rented sector accommodation will also change.

PRS properties will not only be buy-to-let houses, converted into HMOs, or tiny bedsits where 5 people share 2 rooms. Instead the market for sectors like build-to-rent are growing, and changing the expectations of the new generation of renters about what to expect from PRS accommodation.

In the future the ambition is for high quality, stability and housing which is suitable for a range of different tenants and their needs from young professionals and families with children, right through to older people living in retirement villages managed by a corporate landlord. It is hoped this will help stabilise rents and improve standards across the board, creating affordable places that people can plan to live in long term, with security and quality at their heart.


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Protecting privacy in the aftermath of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal

By Steven McGinty

On 4 June, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham told MEPs that she was ‘deeply concerned’ about the misuse of social media users’ data.

She was speaking at the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) inquiry into the use of 87 million Facebook profiles by Cambridge Analytica and its consequences for data protection and the wider democratic process. The whole affair has shone a light on how Facebook collected, shared, and used data to target people with political and commercial advertising. And, in a warning to social media giants, she announced:

Online platforms can no longer say that they are merely a platform for content; they must take responsibility for the provenance of the information that is provided to users.”

Although this is tough talk from the UK’s guardian of information rights – and many others, including politicians, have used similar language – the initial response from the Information Commissioner was hardly swift.

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) struggled at the first hurdle, failing to secure a search warrant for Cambridge Analytica’s premises. Four days after the Elizabeth Denham announced her intention to raid the premises, she was eventually granted a warrant following a five-hour hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice. This delay – and concerns over the resources available to the ICO – led commentators to question whether the regulator has sufficient powers to tackle tech giants such as Facebook.

Unsurprisingly, it was not long before the Information Commissioner went into “intense discussion” with the government to increase the powers at her disposal. At a conference in London, she explained:

Of course, we need to respect the rights of companies, but we also need streamlined warrant processes with a lower threshold than we currently have in the law.”

Conservative MP, Damien Collins, Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, expressed similar sentiments, calling for new enforcement powers to be included in the Data Protection Bill via Twitter:

Eventually, after a year of debate, the Data Protection Act 2018 was passed on the 23 May. On the ICO blog, Elizabeth Denham welcomed the new law, highlighting that:

The legislation requires increased transparency and accountability from organisations, and stronger rules to protect against theft and loss of data with serious sanctions and fines for those that deliberately or negligently misuse data.”

By introducing this Act, the UK Government is attempting to address a number of issues. However, the Information Commissioner, will be particularly pleased that she’s received greater enforcement powers, including creating two new criminal offences: the ‘alteration etc of personal data to prevent disclosure‘ and the ‘re-identification of de-identified personal data’.

GDPR

On 25 May, the long awaited General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force. The Data Protection Act incorporates many of the provisions of GDPR, such as the ability to levy heavy fines on organisations (up to €20,000,000 or 4% of global turnover). The Act also derogates from EU law in areas such as national security and the processing of immigration-related data. The ICO recommend that GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 are read side by side.

However, not everyone is happy with GDPR and the new Data Protection Act. Tomaso Falchetta, head of advocacy and policy at Privacy International, has highlighted that although they welcome the additional powers given to the Information Commissioner, there are concerns over the:

wide exemptions that undermine the rights of individuals, particularly with a wide exemption for immigration purposes and on the ever-vague and all-encompassing national security grounds”.

In addition, Dominic Hallas, executive director of The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), has warned that we must avoid a hasty regulatory response to the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. He argues that although it’s tempting to hold social media companies liable for the content of users, there are risks in taking this action:

Pushing legal responsibility onto firms might look politically appealing, but the law will apply across the board. Facebook and other tech giants have the resources to accept the financial risks of outsized liability – startups don’t. The end result would entrench the positions of those same companies that politicians are aiming for and instead crush competitors with fewer resources.

Final thoughts

The Facebook-Cambridge Analytical scandal has brought privacy to the forefront of the public’s attention. And although the social media platform has experienced minor declining user engagement and the withdrawal of high profile individuals (such as inventor Elon Musk), its global presence and the convenience it offers to users suggests it’s going to be around for some time to come.

Therefore, the ICO and other regulators must work with politicians, tech companies, and citizens to have an honest debate on the limits of privacy in a world of social media. The GDPR and the Data Protection Act provide a good start in laying down the ground rules. However, in the ever-changing world of technology, it will be important that this discussion continues to find solutions to future challenges. Only then will we avoid walking into another global privacy scandal.


The Knowledge Exchange provides information services to local authorities, public agencies, research consultancies and commercial organisations across the UK. Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in policy and practice are interesting our research team. 

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“This garden has been almost medicinal to me”: community gardens are cultivating the land and empowering communities

In 2016, we reported on the renaissance of community growing projects across Scotland. Since then, interest and participation in community gardens has continued to grow. London, Bristol, Edinburgh and Glasgow have seen urban food growing projects expand and flourish. Elsewhere, cities such as Detroit, Copenhagen, Sydney and Barcelona have experienced their own community garden revolutions.

Increasing concerns about the origins of food, and moves towards healthier eating have been the driving forces behind the development of community growing projects. But this trend has as much to do with connecting communities and empowering individuals as it has with growing fresh and healthy food. Two recent studies have highlighted the many benefits of community growing projects.

Community growing: a tale of two cities

Glasgow

Earlier this year, an article in Work, Employment and Society focused on the work being done in community gardens in Glasgow. The authors selected 16 gardens across the city to explore the potential of community growing projects for generating new forms of social relations around work.

Apart from the food produced by the gardens, the study identified further benefits arising from these projects, including:

  • Recovery of derelict space for community use and recovering places for local people
  • Improving recreational, occupational, employment and training opportunities
  • Providing therapeutic spaces to recover from the stresses of daily life
  • Recognition and celebration of different food cultures
  • Connecting with nature
  • Engaging with other stakeholders, such as local authorities and NHS bodies

The authors of the study also identified tensions that can arise between community gardening groups, with their “progressive sense of collective space” and local authorities’ “commercialized property-based narrative”.

However, the study concluded that “…community growing projects lead to important forms of social empowerment for individuals, while at the same time helping to re-energise communities in some of the city’s most deprived areas.”

 Edinburgh

The findings from the Glasgow research were echoed in a further study focusing on Scotland’s capital city. Edinburgh now has more than 50 community gardens which have been developed by grassroots groups, community organisations, the NHS and third sector charities.

The research, published in January, was conducted in three community gardens in East Edinburgh:

As in Glasgow, the authors found that community gardens are not only places for cultivation of the land, but can also address wider social issues, such as social bonding, skills development and health. One Lochend participant highlighted the health-giving properties of community gardens:

“A big part of what motivates the garden is mental health. It is nice for people to get out of their houses and spend time in the garden, working on something. It is quite mindful to get out and be productive…this garden has been almost medicinal to me.”

There were also strong feelings among the Edinburgh community garden participants about the connections between the right to grow food and the right to reclaim unused or waste common land. The study’s authors noted that community gardens are often seen by councils and governments as barriers to developing housing and market revenue. The common feeling in community gardening projects is that, given the chance, they can put the land to better use.

Climate Challenge Fund

Our 2014 blog post raised questions about the challenges facing community gardens, such as planning and legal issues, land availability, funding, winning the support of local communities and addressing skills shortages. Two years on, those challenges remain.

However, there have also been positive developments that should help to advance the cause of community growing projects.

Since 2008, the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund has been providing support to communities. Examples include South Seeds, a community-led organisation in the south of Glasgow which has obtained funding for a community garden located on a disused tennis court, and Tayport Community Garden, where experienced gardeners provide support to people growing their own food. At the inaugural CCF Awards in 2017, Tayport Community Garden won the Food Category Award.

Community Empowerment Act

In 2015, the Scottish Parliament passed the Community Empowerment Act, which aims to help communities to do more for themselves and have more say in decisions that affect them.

The Act includes a section requiring every Scottish local authority to publish a food growing strategy to identify land that may be used for individual or community growing, and to describe how the authority intends to increase provision for community growing, especially in disadvantaged areas.

A number of councils have already made a start on their food growing strategies, including Clackmannanshire, East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Growing forward

Across Scotland – and beyond – communities are demonstrating the enormous potential of collaborative growing projects. As the Glasgow study authors conclude: “…community gardens grow much more than food, they grow community.”

Of kerbs, crossings and conceits: is this the end of the road for shared space?

Shared space –  where pedestrians and traffic share the same, deregulated space – is one of the most controversial concepts in contemporary urban design.  Branded as “a planning folly, an architectural conceit” by Lord Holmes, shared space schemes have provoked a mixed, and often passionate, response from advocates and opponents.

Advocates claim that shared space schemes have a number of benefits; they can improve the urban environment and revitalise town centres, reduce congestion and vehicle speeds, and improve traffic flow and road safety.

However, opponents such as Lord Holmes have argued that shared space schemes – particularly the removal of kerbs and crossings – are dangerous and exclusionary for vulnerable groups of pedestrians, such as blind and partially sighted people, children, wheelchair users and other people with reduced mobility, and people on the autistic spectrum.

Recent incidents have also brought the safety of shared space schemes into question, including the tragic case of a young child killed by a van in a shared space scheme in Jersey, and the car accident on the shared space scheme on Exhibition Road in London, in which 11 people were injured.

Numerous terrorist incidents have also emphasised the vulnerability of pedestrians to vehicles, with many authorities now putting barriers in place to prevent such occurrences.

Together with the recent High Court judgement that suggests shared space schemes may be incompatible with the Public Sector Equality Duty, could it be that shared space schemes are an idea that works in theory, but not in practice?

 

Defining shared space ‘types’

In response to these controversies, the Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) conducted a review of shared space schemes in the UK; the findings of which were published earlier this year.

They note that one of the difficulties in discussing ‘shared space’ is its lack of definition.  They suggest that term ‘shared space’ itself is unhelpful as it is too vague and is associated with many negative preconceptions.

They instead recommend the use of three different street types, which reflect the varying degrees to which pedestrians have freedom of movement across the entire space:

  • pedestrian-prioritised street – where areas have low traffic rates and speeds, and drivers are considered ‘guests’;
  • informal street – in areas of higher traffic flow, with defined carriageways, but including absence or reduction of formal traffic control measures, such as crossings; and
  • enhanced street – which is essentially a conventional street with some improvements, such as reduced street clutter and removed guardrails

 

Evidence of safety and effectiveness

Another issue with shared space is that there is a fundamental lack of reliable evidence regarding its effectiveness and safety. A 2014 review found that “most of the evidence so far has been in the form of consultants’ reports, conference papers, student dissertations or reports for organisations which support or oppose aspects of shared space”.

Although some schemes have reported reductions in road accidents, campaigners raise concerns regarding the reliability of using traffic data to assess the safety of such schemes, arguing that reductions in accidents may be because vulnerable road users actively avoid a particular area.

In response to this lack of research, the CIHT review assessed 11 shared space schemes in England against five criteria:

  • inclusive environment;
  • ease of movement;
  • safety and public health;
  • quality of place; and
  • economic benefit.

It found that the majority of schemes appeared to have improved ease of movement and quality of place, but there was insufficient evidence to assess their impact in terms of creating an inclusive environment. They also found that the schemes had no significant impact upon safety, but acknowledge that some user groups had significant concerns about using the schemes.

 

More guidance, objectives and outcomes needed

Thus, while the CIHT conclude that shared space schemes do have the potential to improve public spaces, it cautions that “great care needs to be taken” when making decisions about “when to move from the pedestrian prioritised street type, where the driver should be seen as a guest, into the informal street type, where pedestrians will need to cross a defined carriageway”.

It calls for further guidance to help local authorities decide which type of street is most appropriate in any given situation, taking into consideration factors such as the number of pedestrians, traffic flow and speed.

It notes that “the key issues are around the use of kerbs and controlled crossings”.

In regard to kerbs, it states that “where conditions are such that the street needs to be separated into a carriageway and footway, the interface between them should be clearly delineated and detectable by all. In most situations, a kerb will be the most appropriate and simple way of achieving this”.

Regarding crossings, it states that “there should be sufficient provision for all users to cross the carriageway safely and in comfort”, and recommends further research into how best to achieve this.

A further recommendation of the review – that “future schemes should be promoted, designed, implemented and monitored against a series of predefined objectives with clear outcomes” – if implemented, will help to address the current lack of information on the outcomes and impact of these schemes, and inform future street design guidance and practice to the advantage of all users.

As the CIHT suggest “street design needs to meet the requirements of all users so that inclusive environments are created. This golden thread, enshrined in the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, must flow through the entire design, construction, operation and maintenance process”.


Want to learn more about shared space? Idox Information Service members can download our new briefing on shared streets via our customer website.

Exploring Barnahus: a Nordic approach to supporting child abuse victims

Barnahus (which literally means Children´s house) is a child-friendly, interdisciplinary and multiagency centre where different professionals work under one roof in investigating suspected child sexual abuse cases and provide appropriate support for child victims.

Learning from the Nordic countries

Barnahus has assumed a key role in the child protection and child justice systems of many Nordic countries, including Sweden and Iceland. While there are some small differences in definition of the model across these nations, the general principle remains the same: to create a one-stop-shop for services that children can access under one roof. Services range from country to country, but usually include a combination of police, criminal justice services, child and adolescent mental health practitioners, paediatric doctors and social services.

The Barnahus model involves a high level of interdisciplinary working between different teams and allows for a complete package of care and support for a child to be created to reflect their needs. Within the Barnahus centres there are normally facilities including medical rooms, interview rooms, courtrooms, and residential facilities for those young people deemed at risk and who need to be taken immediately into temporary residential care.

Evaluations of areas that use this model of intervention have found significantly better outcomes for child victims and their families because of the multidisciplinary and multi-agency approach. Some discussions have also suggested that creating an adapted model for adult victims could also be a possibility in the future.

Reducing the trauma for victims of child sexual abuse

In England, it is estimated that only 1 in 8 victims of child sexual abuse are identified by the authorities. Children who disclose that they have been sexually abused face multiple interviews in multiple settings to a number of different people, often asking them the same questions. This can be confusing and frightening, as well as traumatic for many children who have to repeatedly recount the story of their abuse. Once the interview process is over, they can also then face long waiting times to access specialist therapeutic support.

The Barnahus model seeks to reduce some of the trauma experienced by victims of child sexual abuse by making the approach child-focused, emphasising the importance of a positive, safe and supportive environment in which to be seen by specialists, give evidence and receive support. For example, within the models used in Iceland children and young people are interviewed and examined within a week of the abuse allegation being made. These interviews are all conducted and recorded in a single location with specially trained officers and medical professionals, and they are then used in court as evidence, avoiding the victim having to revisit court in order to give evidence or testify.

Inside the centre, a specially trained interviewer asks questions, while other parties watch via a video link. Any questions they have are fed through an earpiece to the interviewer. Lawyers for the accused have to put all their questions at this point.

Another benefit to the model is that children who are interviewed are then able to access immediate assistance and counselling; in the current system in England, children may face cross-examination in court months after the alleged abuse, and would have to wait for victim support therapy.

Allocation of funding from government

In 2017, in response to the success reported in the Nordic models, the UK government earmarked Police Innovation Funding of £7.15m to help establish and roll out a similar scheme in London, which would see criminal justice specialists working alongside social services, child psychologists and other services and, it is hoped, pave the way to create a UK-wide Barnahus model in the future.

Building on the existing model in London, CYP Haven, which provides largely clinical, short term care, will provide a multi-agency, long-term support and advocacy service that is expected to support over 200 children and young people each year. Criminal justice aspects of aftercare will be embedded in the service, with evidence-gathering interviews led by child psychologists on behalf of the police and social workers, and court evidence provided through video links to aid swifter justice.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

If you enjoyed this blog, you may also be interested in our other articles:

Child abuse by children: why don’t we talk about it?

Secure care in Scotland: measuring outcomes and sharing practice

Another satisfied customer! How the Idox Information Service is keeping our members in the know

 

  • “Always very helpful – an invaluable service.”
  • “Such a great time saver. Responses are always quick and staff really helpful and friendly.”
  • “I am pleasantly shocked at how quickly my enquiry was dealt with.”

If customer satisfaction is an organisation’s best marketing tool, then the Idox Information Service could base a whole campaign on feedback from our members.

Over the past forty years, first as the Planning Exchange and more recently as the Idox Information Service, we’ve built up a strong reputation as a vital source of reliable information on public and social policy. One of our most popular services has been ‘Ask-a-Researcher’, which enables anyone working in an organisation subscribing to the Idox Information Service to submit requests for literature searches.

We’ve previously explained the care our team of research officers takes in putting together and adding value to the information we find in response to enquiries. Our members in both the public and private sectors have always been appreciative of this work, but the feedback we’ve been receiving in recent months has been particularly positive. Enquirers most often highlight the depth of information provided, the wide range of sources used, the inclusion of the most up-to-date information and the fast turnaround times between enquiry submission and response.

In this blog post, we’re taking a closer look at why ‘Ask-a-Researcher’ has been so popular, focusing on real-life enquiries we’ve received and showing what our service users thought of the results.

Finding the facts

Our Research Officer Steven McGinty recently responded to an enquiry from Pamela Buchanan at North Lanarkshire Council requesting information on social work practice, and specifically on working with hard to reach groups, teenagers, and service users.

Steven began his response by searching the Idox database, using a selection of search terms such as  ‘social work’, ‘young people’ and ‘hard-to-reach’. He then organised the retrieved results into chronological order, and divided them into three sections: working with hard to reach groups; working with teenagers; and communication with service users. To accompany the results, Steven presented a summary, highlighting a number of resources of particular interest. In addition, he also conducted an online search, which generated further resources, most of which focused on communication within social work.

After reviewing Steven’s results, Pamela responded with an enthusiastic assessment:

“Fantastic! Thanks so much, Steven. Excellent communication, very timeous.”

Experience, skills and added value

Colin Pidgeon from the Northern Ireland Assembly approached the Idox Information Service for help in finding information on government policies that have tried to mitigate the effects of negative equity.

In response, Idox Research Officer Heather Cameron conducted a search of our database which returned a number of items related to negative equity and indebtedness. In her summary of the results, Heather noted that there was a lack of evidence specifically on government interventions to mitigate against negative equity, however a number of reports (such as one published by The Smith Institute) considered preventive policy actions and interventions that might be appropriate.

Colin was pleased with the results and recognised the skills of our research officers in finding the most relevant material:

“Every time I have used the service, Idox researchers have managed to turn something up that I hadn’t previously located through our library.”

The time-saving service

Many of our members often mention how much time our searches have saved them. While some aren’t able to quantify the exact time saved, others are happy to make estimates. After our research officer, Stacey Dingwall carried out a search for Ceri McMillan from North Ayrshire Council, Ceri replied with her thanks, estimating that Stacey’s search had saved her some seven hours of work. Another search, carried out by Steven for Skills Development Scotland was estimated to have saved 2-3 days of desk research. And a highly complex search carried out by Stacey and Heather for Chloe Billing at City-REDI was estimated to have saved Chloe a week’s worth of research.

Steven, Stacey and Heather, along with Donna Gardiner, Rebecca Jackson and James Carson have backgrounds in research, information science or public policy. A special mention should also go to Mhari Glen, our Information and Communications Assistant, who frequently receives messages of thanks for her quick and efficient dispatch of articles and books from our library.

It’s this kind of personal, tailored, dedicated service that has earned the Idox Information Service so many appreciative responses. Our members like dealing with people who are skilled and experienced in managing information, and who are ready to listen and respond to their needs.

It’s a reputation we’re happy to live up to.

In their own words: what our members think of Ask-a-Researcher

  • “You have provided me with an excellent overview of what literature is available for my topic of interest.” – Charlotte Hoole, City-REDI
  • “I have already recommended it to colleagues and students. Having up to date information is vital to keep abreast of new research and developments.” – Marilyn Stewart, Shetland Islands Council
  • “The speed of reply was excellent. I thought I had likely found the majority of the literature available, but this provided some great papers I had not come across.” – Naomi Saunders, Skills Development Scotland
  • “Fabulous information, gathered so quickly. I would not have found all this information.” – Jackie Timmins, Birmingham City Council
  • “Saved me a lot of time and has given me access to a variety of resources.” – Jenni Kerr, Glasgow City Council
  • “Idox are officially our biggest life savers.” – Clare Hammond, Rocket Science
  • “Disarmingly fast! Well targeted. Helpful.” – David Ottiwell, Greater Manchester Combined Authority – Research and Strategy

Further information

Members of the Idox Information Service may access the Ask-a-Researcher service by logging into the Information Service website and then choosing the Request a Search option.

If you would like to know more about the benefits of Idox Information Service membership, including the Ask-a-Researcher service, please get in touch with our customer development team today.

If more than one in three homeowners are interested in downsizing, why aren’t they making the move?

 

According to Savills estate agents, about 90,000 people over the age of 65 in the UK downsize to smaller homes each year. On the face of it, that’s a substantial number, but it still leaves more than three million houses under-occupied.

With an ageing population and a serious housing shortage, government at local and national levels is looking for ways to encourage older people to downsize their accommodation so that more family-sized housing is made available.

Benefits of downsizing

Everyone needs good housing, but as people grow older their homes become especially important as places where they can feel safe, independent and comfortable. Downsizing from larger properties can offer significant benefits to older people:

  • Smaller homes can be easier to heat and have lower utility bills.
  • People downsizing to sheltered housing can retain their independence, while having access to support when it’s needed.
  • Smaller homes are easier to manage and cheaper to maintain.
  • People moving into specialised retirement accommodation can experience improvements in their health and wellbeing.

Enabling people to remain in their own homes may also alleviate the pressures on the country’s social care system – pressures that are likely to intensify as the population age rises.

Downsizing barriers

While there are attractions to downsizing, important factors are putting off large numbers of people from moving to a smaller home. Some may feel too confined in a smaller space, experience problems storing their possessions, or miss having a large garden. Others may feel that they’ve taken a long time to climb the property ladder, and want to enjoy the home they have spent a lifetime working to achieve.

But for those who do want to move, downsizing can be expensive.  It may release equity, but some households find the costs of moving – notably stamp duty – may cancel out the financial benefits. And although lower maintenance costs can be a major reason for downsizing, older people moving into apartments may find that costs for maintenance and factoring, may be higher than in a standard family home.

Downsizing: the real story

A 2016 report by the International Longevity Centre (ILC) explored the experiences and expectations of people downsizing from under-occupied housing later in life. The report found that one in three homeowners over 55 are considering or expect to consider downsizing. However, while demand for downsizing is substantial, the reality is a different story:

“In many ways, the older generation is stuck in its current housing, which has resulted in the UK having one of the lowest moving rates amongst its older population compared to other developed countries.”

The study echoed the findings from a 2014 Age UK report which showed that the scarcity of suitable and affordable retirement housing was a barrier to downsizing:

“At the moment, retirement housing makes up just 5-6% of all older people’s housing. Research indicates that many more older people might consider downsizing if alternatives were available, although not just retirement housing schemes.”

The Age UK report noted that, based on demographic trends, specialist retirement housing would need to increase by between 35 and 75% just to keep pace with demand. The report also pointed to poor access standards and cramped accommodation in some sheltered housing schemes as downsizing deterrents.

Alternative approaches

The Scottish Government’s strategy for housing for older people, published in 2011, supports downsizing, and highlights Highland Council’s scheme as an example of good practice. In association with local housing associations, the council has provided financial and practical incentives to support older people wishing to move because their homes are too large for their needs.

Another approach, popular in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, is co-housing, which offers older residents a balance between independence and community life. Co-housing schemes are run totally by the residents, offering support when needed to those who live there, while respecting their dignity and independence.

In the Netherlands, there are now more than 200 co-housing communities. Successive governments there have supported co-housing because it has had such positive impacts on demand for health and social care services.

In April, the UK’s first co-housing project for older women opened in Barnet, north London. One of the scheme’s proponents, Maria Brenton, believes that it will be a model for similar projects:

“One of our purposes is to promote the idea of senior co-housing. Now we have shown the way, we are a living, breathing example, it will encourage people enormously.”

Final thoughts

As the ILC report notes, the policy debate on housing in the UK has focused almost completely on first-time buyers. However, with more than three million homeowners aged 55 or over open to the idea of downsizing, the impact of freeing up large numbers of family homes could be significant. Before that happens, the under-supply of affordable homes meeting the particular needs of older residents needs to be addressed:

“Fundamentally, the notion of downsizing in later life should be about choice rather than obligation. It therefore becomes clear that if we were to develop the right policy environment, we can enhance the choices available to people in later life, encouraging downsizing and creating a more dynamic housing market.”



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