Health and Environment Public Engagement (HEPE) is a network of people from communities in Cornwall and Plymouth who have an interest in research about the complex interactions between environments and human health.
After being consulted by BlueHealth researchers about the international survey, the HEPE team started to discuss their own experiences of visiting or living near to blue spaces. The group decided to explore what blue spaces mean to their lives and their health and wellbeing, beginning a research project of their own.
Findings from the project so far:
- Sensory engagement with blue spaces has been described as a way to induce feelings of health and wellbeing.
- Engagement may be valued either because a blue space is risky and exciting, or because it is peaceful and calming.
- Childhood memories and cultural histories of blue spaces are important for both personal and community identities.
- Environmental changes impact people’s feelings about the benefits of blue spaces, both positively and negatively.
- Tension has been found between accessibility and the valuing of ‘wildness’.
For a visual snapshot of HEPE’s work so far take a look at the My BlueHealth poster.
HEPE members collected stories and pictures about the blue spaces they have visited in the past, and those they continue to visit.
These stories described a range of activities, from reclaiming an overgrown rural pond to support wildlife, to a couple eating fried fish together on a bench overlooking the sea. The images and stories demonstrated the contrasting experiences for people relating to different types of blue space, for example, narrow urban canals, broad rivers snaking between the hills, flooded mine works, small ponds and wild coastal footpaths.
Memories of childhood adventures as well as industrial and pre-industrial histories, helped people to describe their personal and community connections to blue spaces, and explain how these places can help define them as a person.
Environmental change has been a recurring theme in people’s stories. One member explained how helping to re-wild an area choked by invasive brush, provided a powerful memory of personal growth. Another described feeling delighted by revisiting a dangerous childhood landscape to find that the rusty bikes and supermarket trollies had been removed.
One member of the group explained how the channelling of a stream and remodelling of the post-industrial landscape felt like it had erased the community’s identity and wiped away the role of past generations who had lived and worked in the place.
HEPE worked with qualitative researchers in two workshops to analyse these stories and images. Together the group identified similarities and differences between people’s experiences and issues. This is currently being written up.
Childhood memories were a notable feature of people’s stories which inspired the HEPE group to explore the experiences of younger generations. Teaming up with Dr Jo Garrett and artist Ruth Purdy, the group organised an afternoon of activities for primary school children in Cornwall. The children explored their feelings about their experiences with blue spaces in the past, present and future.
It was noticeable that the pupils were concerned with issues of pollution and climate change, and had a level of environmental awareness that HEPE members did not remember having at such an early age. Read the blog post to find out more.
Visualising blue spaces
The HEPE group also attended a workshop with London based artist Alex Julyan who talked about creating ‘conversation cards’. The cards form a set of printed images that can be used in different ways to help kick start conversations about a topic. The artist also hosted an online ‘conversation with pictures’, sharing a series of blue space images while asking HEPE members to respond intuitively before finding out the context of the image.
My BlueHealth Report
A report of this work will be written and published later in the year. Check back here for updates.
HEPE hope it will provide a slightly different perspective on BlueHealth, exploring the emotional and personal attachments that influence people’s interactions with blue spaces.
To find out more or get involved with HEPE you can contact HEPE@exeter.ac.uk.