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Green Spaces Issue

Issue 11

Increasing use through addressing issues of conflict of interests in green spaces
Guidance Paper No. 11

Judy Ling Wong OBE. Director BEN

The attitudes, interest and actions of different groups of people come into conflict at various times, resulting in particular groups of people feeling that they cannot use the space. In this article, we will focus on some examples of conflict and some possible solutions. It also flags up actions, which ameliorate the situations or pre-empt them so that they may not occur.

A. Groups of real people competing for the use of the same space, and in conflict. This is the most obvious scenario that comes to mind, e.g. groups of young people of different ethnic origin wanting to play football in a space around the same time of day.

B. Notional presence or dominance of the space because of the attitudes of particular groups of people. Here the people concerned may or may not be present, but the fear or unpleasantness caused by the probability of their presence means that particular groups will shy away from coming to the space, e.g. the fear caused by the knowledge that aggressive racists or local bullies use a space.

C. Aspects of green spaces are affected by others through the nature or results of their actions or activities, e.g. dog mess, or what dogs are allowed to do is about dog walkers.

D. Using activities and events to change the atmosphere of a green space, change the relationships between groups and individuals, and promote use by vulnerable people

Territorial disputes

“With so many different groups using the space, Calthorpe Gardens has to try to be all things to all people. There have been territorial disputes in the past, but architect Robert Bishop has put some thought into sharpening the definition of spaces within the garden in order to accommodate multiple functions.”

Calthorpe Gardens. London - BEN Green Space of the Month - March 2004

“We would like to see designated picnic areas and sports pitches in parks.”

Concrete to Coriander - Bangladeshi women's gardening group


Designing distinct areas for a range of different activities can help to reduce conflict

Designating areas for specific activity can help to avoid conflict

Nuisance and threat

“Ethnic minorities are not using green spaces very much because of concerns about safety and security. In the Sikh community, parents go with children to play areas. They would like to let them go unsupervised but it is not safe. There is too much litter and vandalism. People are afraid of exposing their children to the risk of racism.”

“Kenyan family I met 10 years ago would have liked simply to go to Sefton Park, but they felt unsafe to do so.” Liverpool Black and Ethnic Minority Forum

“Vandalism is a problem, and fear of racist attacks. People are afraid of bullying, mugging and crime.” Nottingham Sikh Women's group

“No drug dealers, security guards in all the parks, like they have in the Palm House in Sefton Park.”

“We would prefer it if parks and green spaces were safe and clean, free of litter. Some parks have been improved but many still need attention...."

“A green space should be a safe place for children to play. We need to protect our children from bad people”.

Pepys Community Forum


People are put off using spaces when there has been negative experiences. Anticipation of a repeat of these experiences can make them give up using green spaces altogether. It is important to consult and discover what these are.

Address local racism and other threats from people such as drug dealers or local bullies in partnership with appropriate agencies including for example local community groups, the police e, social services, and youth services

Women and children feel particularly vulnerable unless green spaces are properly designed and maintained with good safety features

Work with organisations specializing in dealing with litter and vandalism, for example,Tidy Britain Campaign, community wardens, or community police. The presence of litter is not only about untidiness and dirtiness. It is also associated with the feeling that there are a lot of irresponsible people around. It adds to feelings of threat.

The presence of park or green space warden, who may be trained volunteers, are very reassuring

Access routes to green spaces

“People feel exposed, we need improved approach roads, better access, lights, no cars....” Liverpool Black and Ethnic Minority Forum

“I wouldn't go to green spaces alone, wouldn't go at night.”

"There are dense bushes and dark corners where problems may lurk. These need to be addressed urgently. There could be more attractive features like footpaths, way-markers, benches, colourful blossom trees. There could also be better safety features such as fences and gates, security cameras at car parks more / better bins.”

Consult local people re their feelings about the way they get to green spaces and work with the Local Authority and other relevant organisations such as Reclaim the Streets to ensure that key approaches to a green space are pleasant and safe.

Work with the local police and other relevant organisations if there are feelings of threat from racists, drug dealers etc.

Invest in good design

Dog-walkers, dogs and dog mess

“Dogs not on leads”

“Getting hands filthy in the muck”

Barnhill Childcare Centre, Moss Side, Manchester

“Some families have commented that they would love to use the secluded, natural areas for prayers, but they would be concerned about, for instance, encountering dog-walkers or the evidence of them. Issues such as this would need to be addressed if the community park truly wants to become a resource for all.”

Rose Hill Quarry, BEN Green Space of the Month, January 2004


Although dog walking is often listed as a green space activity by participants of BEN focus groups, when asked “what puts you off using and caring for green spaces”, one of the most frequent responses from ethnic community groups are around dogs. Some Muslims avoid the possibility of contact with dogs because they believe they are unclean.

People feel unsafe in terms of health if places are dirty. For sheer reasons of hygiene, it is desirable that there should be areas of green spaces fenced off so that they are free of dogs. Many European parks do this, as part of the awareness that diseases can be picked up from dog mess, and that people, in particular parents with young children want to sit on and play on the grass.

Working with dog owners to eliminate dog mess is something that everyone wants.

Areas can be negotiated with dog owners to designate them as places in which dogs may run free. This has benefits for many people, but especially for local Muslims who feel unable to use a space because dogs run free over the entire space.

Activity provision and different areas to do them in

“Group activities are good, because women and children may feel unsafe to out alone, but if you go together, you can enjoy the company and support.”

Nottingham Sikh Women's focus group

“There needs to be a wide range of activities on offer to suit different types of people within the community – for instance older people may have different interests and needs than young people. We need more choice.”

“We would like to see more attractions and activities in green spaces, to keep children from getting bored, things for people to see and do such as poetry, dancing (traditional Sikh dances and English country dancing), horse riding, martial arts, fruit picking.”

Nottingham Sikh Women's focus group

“A lot of problems are caused where play facilities are restricted to younger age groups, children 10-18 age group are not catered for. There is a need for adventure play ground, skate park, go-karting etc, but we meet local opposition and council resistance.”

Liverpool Black and Ethnic Minority Forum


Work with local community groups and organising, publicizing or encouraging group activities is important for individuals who feel vulnerable..Green spaces are very important for women with pre-school age children as somewhere to go during the day. At the Liverpool BEM Forum, people gave examples of activities that they had seen in other cities – New York's Central Park, parks in Paris, play areas in Amsterdam – where the spaces are well used by many people doing various pastimes, so it feels safer e.g. boules, chess, boating, arts projects, educational activities, circus.

Events enable many people to use green space in a community atmosphere. Sometimes it is easier for individuals and groups new to a space to be introduced to it through an event.

Appropriate activities for different age groups, and for different needs and wishes are important, in order to avoid clashes between youths and older people, or between children of different ages

Culturally relevant activities and features

“We would like to do more horse riding, because that links to our heritage. The guru fought on horseback, and his devotees would donate the best quality horses. Young people would learn to fight with sticks and swords, first on foot and then on horseback.”

Nottingham Sikh Women's focus group

“Festivals such as Mardi Gras, help make people from different communities feel welcome.”

“The waterfront in Liverpool is seen as a particularly democratic / multi-cultural space, although the Chinese and Japanese gardens have been removed.”

Liverpool Black and Ethnic Minority Forum

“What would encourage us to become more involved? Cultural relevance, for example a mandala or plants from different countries – like at the Eden Project.”

Pepys Community Forum


Culturally relevant activities and features bring meaning and engagement with green space.

Green space managers need to be aware of how spaces are perceived and therefore their potential role in the recognition of cultural identity.

Increasing provision through attention to new activities and creating new spaces

"Before the improvements, the Al Hilal Muslim Community Centre garden was unfenced and used as a short cut by people passing through the area. It suffered a lack of sense of ownership. Once it was fenced, the community began to take responsibility for picking up litter and watering plants. It became worthwhile for people to volunteer, as they could see progress resulting from their efforts. But it was very hard to get initial funding for the project, as it was seen as exclusively for the Muslim community. However, the benefit to the wider community is noticeable now, as there is a significant visual improvement to the appearance of the whole area." Al Hilal Muslim Community Centre. Manchester

“Some people support us, some oppose us. It can be demoralizing. We need respect and support, acknowledgement for our contribution, not to feel sidelined. Listening and responding to our comments increases our zeal.”

Pepys Community Forum

“We have planted an orchard of fruit trees and we are looking forward to when they mature and bear fruit, so that people can come and pick the fruit.”

Nottingham Sikh Women's focus group


Smaller green spaces cannot solve their problems of activitiy provision by trying to provide a full range of activities and different spaces for them because they are limited by their size. Therefore overall local needs can only be addressed through a network of different local spaces doing different things. Local green spaces should work with each other to address the range of activities and types of spaces needed.

Communities need support to help them have a new vision to take up opportunities to transform unused open spaces and take responsibility for plots of land given to their care.

The views of local people, in relation to their needs, should be represented to those in power, including local councils. The Community Strategy is a vehicle for this.

Download Guidance Paper 11

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