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Introduction

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 about the BlueHealth survey they went on to discuss their own experiences and what they felt about how people’s health is affected by visiting or living near to blue spaces. The group wanted to explore what blue spaces mean to them in the context of their own lives and turned this into their own research project.

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.

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Our work

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.

Participant shares their memories of visiting the River Thames.

A member of HEPE shares their memories of visiting the River Thames.

Environmental change

Environmental change has been a recurring theme in peoples 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.

Member of the group shares their experiences of changing nature surrounding Ginger Pool, Cornwall.

A member talks about the changing natural environment surrounding Ginger Pool, Cornwall.

 

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.

Workshop quote about BlueHealth and the sea

A member shares their feelings of changing connections to blue environments.

Workshop engagement

HEPE worked with qualitative researchers in two workshops to analyse these stories and images. Together the group identified similarities and differences between peoples’ 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.

One child draws their concerns about the sea

One child creatively shares their concerns about the sea.

 

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.

This exercise, along with insights from the various workshops, has provided a rich breadth of insights which will be used in the final MyBlueHealth Report.

Check back here for updates in the coming months.