Bradford, UK: A Green and Healthy City

Living Green for Health and Wellbeing Icon Living Green for Social Cohesion Icon

Photo by Bradford Council

Photo by Bradford Council

Photo by Bradford Council

Photo by Bradford Council

Photo by Bradford Council

Photo by Bradford Council

City: Bradford
Country: UK
2022 Awards: Entrant
Award Categories:         Living Green for Social Cohesion IconLiving Green for Health and Wellbeing Icon

* This case study was written by the city and has not been edited by AIPH

Initiative: A Green and Healthy City

Bradford District is affected by significant public health inequalities.  Women born in the most deprived areas can expect to live an average 9 years less than the average and for men it is 11 years less. Urban inner-city wards of have the lowest life expectancies, whereas the outer rural wards have the highest life expectancies. 

Born in Bradford is one of the largest research studies in the World, tracking the lives of over 30,000 Bradfordians to find out what influences the health and well-being of families. We use the findings to develop new and practical ways to work with families and health professionals to improve the health and well-being of our communities.  A part of the research conducted by the Bradford Institute for Health Research has confirmed that our environment has a large impact on childhood development and public health outcomes.  Family play in green spaces from an early age is needed.  We are leading increasingly sedentary lifestyles and need to be more active. 

Collectively, this research has helped to empower community stakeholders and assisted the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council to plan and deliver blue and green infrastructure projects to achieve better public health outcomes for our communities.

Better Start Bradford works with expectant families and families with children aged 0-3 in South Bradford to help give children the best possible start in life. To do this Better Start developed and commissioned a range of innovative projects with funding from the National Lottery Community Fund.  The Better Place project is identifying and overseeing improvements to local parks and outdoor spaces with the aim of providing a healthier and happier environment for babies, young children, and families. 

JU:MP is the Bradford Local Delivery Pilot, led by Active Bradford and funded by Sport England, that aims to help children and families in North Bradford to be more active, testing and learning as we grow. 

Bradford Council has joined in learning networks to grow our knowledge base and share experiences.  Interreg BEGIN (Blue Green Infrastructures through Social Innovation) looks at how cities can improve climate resilience with blue green infrastructure involving stakeholders and has grown to consider how the same intervention can also create better public health and well-being outcomes.  URBACT Healthy Cities Action Planning network aims to deepen the relationship between health and the urban environment, planning actions that focus on improving the population’s health, and the multiplicity of possible approaches to tackle the issue: green areas, mobility, social cohesion or promotion of sports for example. 

These initiatives have inspired green space interventions across our urban areas.
Attock and Kashmir Parks are projects co-created and co-designed with the local community to construct green spaces from waste land that encourages social interaction and outdoor activity to support healthier lifestyles and social cohesion.  Green space at Pitty Beck has been made more accessible. 

In all our major public realm projects we are looking at how blue and green infrastructure can help shape better public health outcomes. 

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Did you know?

The Queens Award for Voluntary Service was presented at the opening ceremony for Attock park.

Addressing the urban challenge

Breadth of the issue – How are the problem(s) that are being tackled by your initiative affecting citizens/local businesses or a significant component of the local wildlife?

Bradford is one of the largest and fastest growing cities in England and a quarter of its people are aged under 16, making it the youngest city in the country. The district has high levels of deprivation in the inner-city neighbourhoods, and is facing significant health challenges, including some of the highest rates of childhood illness in the UK, and serious concerns over air quality in certain areas. Failure to tackle these health issues would mean bleak prospects for the future, including increased illness and inequality, reduced life expectancy, and greater demand on our healthcare system. 

Improving the health and well-being of people in our inner-city areas through the delivery of multi-functional green infrastructure such as parks, playgrounds, sports fields and residential greenery will support not only physical and mental health, but support climate change mitigation. 

The benefits of access to high quality green space include:

  • Improved mental health and well-being for children, young people and adults
  • Increased likelihood of physical activity across all age groups
  • Reduced violence and aggression: a reduction in antisocial behaviour and incidence of crime in urban areas with green spaces
  • Reduced health inequalities: significant reductions in mortality and morbidity from all causes and circulatory disease are associated with areas of greater green space. This result takes into account the effects of income deprivation
  • Increased levels of community activity and residents’ satisfaction
  • Improvement in air and noise quality and sustainability (increasing biodiversity, encouraging active transport)
  • Economic benefits. 
Depth of the issue – How seriously are the problems being tackled by your initiative impacting the life of the citizens/businesses/wildlife concerned?

Our urban population is diverse, with 1 in 4 people identifying as Asian/Asian British origin.  The city has high levels of deprivation, which are concentrated in our urban neighbourhoods, where most of our more diverse communities live. Almost 23% of 4-5yrs and 38% of 10-11yrs are obese. 23% adults are inactive and do less than 30 minutes exercise a week. In the summer, families on average spend 6hrs per week outside and in winter that is reduced to 1.5hrs per week, but South Asian families spend much less half the amount of time as their counterparts. 78% of children and young people in Bradford need to be more physically active. 

Evidence shows that people, particularly children, who live close to a traditional urban park are likely to experience higher well-being benefits than people who live close to open space in urban areas that has little or no greenery. New studies published in recent years, including local evidence from the Born in Bradford birth cohort programme have added to this evidence base. 

Access to green space is a key success measure for the district’s Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2018-2023, ‘Connecting People and Place’. This strategy sets out maximum recommend walking distances to a range of outdoor amenities:

  • nearest green space – 400m/nine minutes’ walk
  • children’s play space – 450m/10 minutes’ walk
  • formal green space – 600m/15 minutes’ walk
  • informal green space – 550m/13 minutes’ walk
  • natural green space – 700m/18 minutes’ walk. 

The power of plants and natural ecosystems to deliver benefits

How is the initiative shaped by scientific evidence of the potential for plants and natural ecosystems to deliver benefits?

Research into the links between green assets the urban environment and public health and well-being have been explored again in recent years.  The World Health Organization 2016 Review of Evidence – Urban Green Spaces and Health states, “Links between green space and health have been recognized throughout history”, and Public Health England’s Improving Access to Greenspace – A New Review for 2020 states, “From the moment we are born, through to old age, the environments we live in shape our lives and our well-being. Having a safe home, a sufficient income and support networks around us make a substantial contribution to a life in good health. And the importance of our surroundings also extends to our natural environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has made many of us all the more aware of how much we value and rely on our outdoor spaces to support our health and well-being. There is increasingly compelling evidence showing that access to greenspaces really matters for our health.” 

Bringing this evidence back to a local level, born in Bradford research identifies that in Bradford, access to quality green spaces has been linked to healthier birth weights, reduced risk of depression in pregnant women and better mental wellbeing in children’s young children. The impact of green space tends to be stronger within more deprived groups, indicating that interventions which aim to improve quality and/or use of green space in more deprived areas may reduce health inequalities.

How has the city exploited the potential of plants and associated ecosystems to deliver more than one benefit?

The multi-benefits of Blue Green Infrastructure are not only being explored by Bradford’s green and healthy city projects, but also qualified using the CIRIA B£ST (Benefits Estimation) tool. B£ST considers a range of benefits, including amenity, biodiversity and ecology, carbon reduction and sequestration, crime, economic growth, education, flooding, tourism, and water quality. 

Bradford is exploring how it’s use, and development of green assets can deliver public health benefits, but then integrate this into a whole range of different infrastructure projects.  How we develop highways schemes or promote active travel.  How we use nature-based solutions in sustainable drainage systems.  How we link together green spaces as steppingstones for birds and pollinators to cross our urban environments, and how we reshape our relationship with the natural world by converting underused or brownfield land into healthy green spaces. 

Our use of plants and green spaces is being used to inspire people to get outside and be more active, to plant their own food, socialise, play, learn, and enjoy fresh air.  Bringing our communities into a closer relationship with their local nature ecosystem. 

Innovative and Collaborative Solution

How does the initiative show evidence of feasibility, including on-going financial and logistical support? 

Green space regeneration is being delivered from a variety of resources and funders, reflecting the success of the Bradford promoting its ambitions and drawing in provision.  Better Place is supported National Lottery Community Fund.  JU:MP is supported by Sport England.  As well as investing Bradford Council’s own resources we have secured regional, national, and international resources, including European Structural Investment Funding, to enable project delivery. Public health care funding is being used to deliver blue green infrastructure projects as the links helping respond to the district’s health inequalities have been established. 

Support for community groups comes from with the local authority, but also our third sector partners and local stakeholders.  This covers both the logistics of delivering projects, but also the educational support to train people how to plant and manage trees, the impact this has on climate change mitigation, and how they can work together as a community.

Project teams work collaboratively, but oversight and scrutiny is delivered by Bradford Council and Bradford District Partnership Health and Wellbeing Board. 

In what ways is the initiative innovative?

The link to community health research being conducted from the Bradford Institute for Health Research through Born in Bradford, represents a unique relationship between scientific analysis of the determinants of public health in our urban environment and the delivery of green spaces.  The effect green space interventions are making on the health and well-being of our citizens is being measured, and then models for how to achieve the best public health outcomes and deliver projects in a sustainable way are being created.  Bradford is helping to build a model strategy for how to achieve better public health outcomes in the considered use of blue green infrastructure. 

Collectively our green space intervention projects use co-design and co-creation to deliver a community engagement and a sense of ownership in what is being achieved, as well as empowering people with the knowledge of how active lifestyles in the great outdoors can help their long-term health.  We are engaging our diverse community stakeholders in decision making and guiding them with the best advice on how to shape a healthier future for them and the city as whole. 

How is the initiative supported by collaborative working across disciplines and sectors?

In Bradford, we are unique in that the relationship between the local authority and our health partners work collaboratively, in a whole system approach to the social, economic, and environmental well-being of its population. One of these initiatives is called ‘act as one’. This is where all the partners and stakeholders come together and have a district wide plan and vision for the city. This is an innovative way to make sure we work together and collaborate. We all have different strengths when it comes to knowledge, research, and experience, as well as funding, resources, and investment opportunities, but collectively we can be a more dynamic agent for change. 

None of the projects would be successful with the direct engagement of our communities in shaping outcomes they are invested in.

Design teams of landscape architect and engineers are collaborating with health care professionals and the community to explore links to active travel, biodiversity, climate change and flood mitigation in a range of exciting and innovative projects, that link the public, third sector and business communities together. 

How does the initiative demonstrate evidence of community support? 

Co-design and co-creation implicit in project delivery ensuring community support and are the corner stone of the Better Place and JU:MP programmes.  All major infrastructure projects are opened up to public consultation to shape designs and outcomes. 

At Attock Park, the new community garden brought Bradford Moor’s Play and Support Service, which runs a range of activities and projects to engage and support the community, and the Council’s Landscape Design & Conservation Team, Public Health Team, and the Better Place Bradford initiative, together with the local community, to co-design and co-create the project.  Attock Park is named after the city in Pakistan’s Punjab, and reflects the historic links this Bradford community has to that region.  The Queens Award for Voluntary Service was awarded to people working within this community at the opening ceremony for the park. 

Implementation, Impact and Replicability

How does the initiative demonstrate evidence of a track record of success against pursued objectives?

Many scientific papers have been produced by Bradford’s researchers on the public health outcomes that are needed and what is being achieved by the projects delivered so far.
Public health research is being turned into strategies, which are in turn being acted upon in programmes such as Better Place and JU:MP, but also being woven into major infrastructure project being developed. 

However, the greatest recognition of the progress we are making toward a green and healthy city comes from the community themselves.  The work at Attock Park has received a Queens Award for Voluntary Service.  The new green spaces we are creating are being well used and our successes are being shared in the media and with our partners in learning networks like Interreg and URBACT Healthy Cities. 

Interreg BEGIN has won both the ‘Green Europe: Green and Resilient Communities in Rural and Urban Settings’ award – voted for by the public – and the Overall public vote award of all the categories at the European Commission’s Registers Awards. 

Saira Ali, Team Leader of the Council’s Landscape Design & Conservation Team was named as Susdrain’s inaugural SuDS Rising Star in 2021, and Bradford was recognised as a Future Place in 2019, leading to the development of a Diverse Community-led Placemaking Toolkit. 

How has the initiative had a ripple effect beyond the scope of the initiative itself, thereby demonstrating a change in the city’s and/or its partners’ way of working with plants?

Bradford is bringing the wider blue green infrastructure and public health and well-being benefits into projects that may ordinarily not explore these field. The Bradford to Shipley Road Improvement Scheme is principally a highways project that is seeking to address major congestion issues that could stifle economic growth and regeneration, but the challenges of low air quality and how to enable more active travel use are part of the project.  This highways scheme suggested an opportunity to denaturalise a long culverted section of Bradford Beck, with the benefits that would bring for flood mitigation and biodiversity, but also to create a valuable amenity for public use that will have positive public health outcomes for the community. 

We are developing a Streets for People project in Shipley that will remodel the heart of the town along principles the improve the well-being of every who live, works or visits the town centre.  Bold plans are being developed using the Transforming Cities Fund to green the centre of Bradford and increase the use of active travel as opposed to personal car use.  These huge infrastructure projects will reshape of urban environment and improve the health of our society. 

We are still learning more.  Exploring social prescribing of our green spaces and how we can empower our communities. 

How have other cities expressed interest in the initiative, or what potential does it have to interest other cities and be customised to their own circumstances?

Bradford Council has used its involved in international city to city learning networks to spread the story of what is being achieved.  Interreg BEGIN (Blue Green Infrastructures through Social Innovation) looks at how cities can improve climate resilience with Blue Green Infrastructure involving stakeholders in a value-based decision-making process and has grown to consider how the same intervention can also create better public health and well-being outcomes.  URBACT Healthy Cities Action Planning network aims to deepen the relationship between health and the urban environment, planning actions that focus on improving the population’s health. 

A new project delivered through the EU Horizon programme is Life CRITICAL.  Promoting and improving the multiple environmental and health benefits of urban green spaces, Life CRITICAL (Climate Resilience Through Involvement of Local citizens) aims to provide resilience to climate change for local neighbourhoods. 

Life CRITICAL is engaging communities, raising awareness of healthy lifestyles, and showing how Horton Park can provide environmental improvements that address challenges such as air pollution, urban heat island effects and localised surface water flooding. 

Sustainability and Resilience

What efforts have been made to reduce the carbon footprint of the initiative?

The use of volunteers in community initiatives has a positive impact on the sustainability of projects, but also supports community cohesion and resilience. 

In more complex green space regeneration projects, where possible local suppliers and materials are prioritised through procurement.  In major project contractor may be required to establish environmental benchmarks for delivery and will be measured against these to ensure unnecessary waste or resource is expended. 

Working on seasonal planting helps mitigate the need for additional watering and maintenance during establishment, reducing the need for site visits. 

How have the anticipated impacts of climate change been considered?

Interventions are focused on plant species that are naturalised and capable of thriving in the local environment/climate with limited human intervention.  Seasonally appropriate planting to avoid unnecessary watering during establishment. 

Surplus dug material is moved within the district to limit the impact of disposal and if possible, reuse where infill is needed. 

We are developing nature-based solution for sustainable drainage systems into projects where possible. 

What processes does the initiative include for it to be considerate in its use of soils and other natural resources?

Green space regeneration projects focus on reuse of brown field sites or where the quality of the natural environment is low and needs to be enhanced for better outcomes. 
Even when exploring large regeneration projects Bradford Council’s landscape designers and engineers explore how to move surplus material between sites in the district to improve delivery across a series of projects, rather than export or import material unnecessarily.

Community projects are encouraged to explore rainwater harvesting and recycling. 

Monitoring, Maintenance, and Management

How has the initiative been designed and implemented so that long-term needs for management and maintenance are reduced and can be met?

Site and planting species selection is key to minimising long-term management and maintenance needs.  Native species will require the least invasive maintenance regimes and be the most resilient. 

Community groups are being given support and advice on how to maintain their green assets, but also the educational resources being delivered in schools are creating future community generations better equipped to understand their environment and how to protect it. 

What protocols are in place to facilitate monitoring of results?

As the ambitions for Bradford to become a green and healthy city are a collaboration between healthcare professionals and public realm design, development and management professionals, it is backed by a full range of scientific analysis and monitoring.
Tools such as SOPARC (System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities), a validated direct observation tool for assessing physical activity and associated people and environmental characteristics in park and recreation settings have been utilised to analyse the performance of green space interventions. 

Recommendations for improvements are based on evidence. 

  • Structural interventions to improve local green spaces focus on making spaces safe and attractive for families with young children to visit
  • A sustained set of targeted communications and activities are implemented which aim to encourage families to use their local green spaces.
  • Consideration is given as to how all interventions will impact on or be impacted by crime and anti-social behaviour and how interventions will impact on the needs of our different park user groups, including young people (adolescents and young adults).
  • Interventions and activities are co-produced with members of the local community in order to ensure acceptability and that key barriers to use are addressed. 
How has the initiative been enhanced in response to monitoring of results?

The research being conducted by the Bradford Institute for Health Research through the Born in Bradford birth cohort study has enabled programmes like Better Start Bradford to exist.  Understanding the underlying public health challenges has enabled interventions to be developed and focused on what solutions for our green spaces will have the greatest public health and well-being outcomes. 

The growing knowledge base is ensuring that each successive project we undertake can be more impactful. 

The shared community of knowledge is also enabling a wider range of infrastructure projects to explore the benefits blue green assets will have on public health and well-being.  This is shaping to next generation of major public realm projects that will continue to redefine our urban landscape and help build more resilient and cohesive communities.