Regional park wins Sport England funding to provide "natural health service"

A South London regional park is being piloted as a natural health service through funding drawn from across health, sport, and heritage groups.

Wandle Valley's trails to be promoted as "outdoor gyms". Image: Supplied
Wandle Valley's trails to be promoted as "outdoor gyms". Image: Supplied

Sport England has awarded the Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust (WVRPT) almost £132,000 to support its new Get Active Wandle Valley project.

The project is a partnership initiative targeting deprived communities around the South London park - from the boroughs of Wandsworth, Merton, Sutton and Croydon - with support from their local authorities and the National Trust.

It will focus on getting residents physically active in the parks and open spaces of the Wandle Valley Regional Park, rather than using indoor gyms.

The 800ha, 15-mile-long park has the River Wandle at its heart. It contains a mix of heritage locations, housing, open land, parks, wildlife and a pedestrian and cycle route called the Wandle Trail which will be a particular focus of the programme.

The trust is hailing the project as the first example of its kind, with match funding coming from both the public health and sports departments of each borough, National Trust and the trust itself.

Trust chief executive Sue Morgan said: "The project allows us to demonstrate the massive benefits to the public's health and wellbeing by using the exceptional open space assets of the Wandle Valley. It is in effect a natural health service."

Morgan said Sport England, which funded the project from its share of National Lottery funding, was "delighted" to see the partnership approach happening across departments and boroughs.

Coming at a time of budget cuts for all departments, receiving funding from non-parks departments and DCMS is a big step forward, said Morgan, who is a member of parks lobby group The Parks Alliance.

In total the trust now has some £200,000 of funding to pay for a full-time project coordinator and promoter for three years. It will also help fund apps and a website and, crucially, monitoring of participants to prove the approach is effective at improving physical and mental health.

If the programme works, knock-on effects include highlighting the importance of public realm and green space, and giving credence to the park when it comes time to bid for funding for infrastructure and other investments, added Morgan.


Get Active Wandle Valley will initially nudge people to get active through a running or cycling or as little as a half-hour walk using the Wandle Trail. Over time they will be pointed in the direction of other offerings in the valley, including fishing, orienteering, canoeing, skating, dancing, yoga, Pilates, bowls, ice skating and archery, many of which are provided by the National Trust.

Training opportunities for volunteering and cascade training will also be undertaken, with activities free for the first three sessions and low cost thereafter.

The project is initially for residents but may later be expanded to include staff working in business parks and offices along the trail.

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