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Closing the nature ‘access gap’ at Soapworks

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Liam Ronan-Chlond is the community and social value lead at First Base, the mixed-use property developer investing £175million to bring Bristol’s former Gardiner Haskins warehouse back to life with new workspace, homes, and social spaces. First Base joined the Partnership in early 2020.

This year, like many people across the country, I have spent an inordinate amount of time visiting local parks and woodlands. Initially it was to make the most of my allotted ‘daily exercise’ during lockdown, but our household quickly grew to appreciate being outside in nature. Maybe this was a response to our home becoming a workplace, or to spending a lot more time couped-up together!

Unfortunately, not every household is lucky enough to experience the great outdoors. Research commissioned by the National Trust revealed a divide in access to nature across the UK, based on both ethnic backgrounds and economic circumstances. For instance, black and Asian communities were found to visit natural settings 60 per cent less than their white counterparts, and in the poorest 20 per cent of households, almost half don’t have access to a car so face limitations in how far they can travel to green spaces.

The study recommended three steps to levelling up access to quality green spaces, including greening urban streets and neighbourhoods, creating street parks and connecting local green spaces. As a placemaker, First Base is passionate about creating sustainable and inclusive spaces for people and nature to thrive and is committed to  implementing these steps. Our plans to bring the former Gardiner Haskins Warehouse back to life with new places to live, work and socialise also include over 100 new plant species. This is in response to feedback from our public consultation, which called for new green and open space to be included at this centrally-located brownfield site. These proposals have been specifically designed to boost biodiversity and breath fresh life back into this former Soapworks.

Back in February, Bristol was the first UK city to declare an ecological emergency in response to escalating threats to our wildlife and ecosystem. Our plans for the Soapworks aim to meet this challenge, including new spaces for flora and fauna, from wildflower gardens and additional trees, to bug hotels, bat boxes and beehives.

Furthermore, in response to the Council’s One City Ecological Emergency Strategy, we have produced a Sustainability Charter which sets out our commitments to cutting carbon and creating a greener place to live, work and visit. This Charter comes hot on the heels of our recent Plant Mark Certification which recognises our commitment to sustainability.

We know that getting out into nature has proven benefits for our mental health and wellbeing, so now more than ever it’s important to eliminate the social divide when it comes to accessing the great outdoors. We’ve been working closely with the Bristol mental health charity, Off The Record (OTR) which advocates connecting more to nature to help us slow down and stay present, calm and grounded within our daily lives – a mantra we should all live by.

2020 has been a hard year for us all, but charities in particular have suffered from diminishing funds as fundraising has been cancelled, charity events postponed and volunteers unable to volunteer. We wanted to continue our support during this time so as well as OTR, we partnered with1925 Independent People and the Grand Appeal as they are both local to us at the Soapworks and aligned with our values for supporting young people in Bristol.

Here are our top tips for partnering with a charity:

  • Make sure their values align with yours, whether that’s environmentally or socially
  • Consider how you can offer support, whether it is monetary donations, food or items of clothing BEFORE you reach out to them
  • Let them know why you want to support and how you plan to do this within government guidelines
  • Give the charity timelines so they can factor any fundraising into their budgets as soon as possible

Hopefully, nature’s recent renaissance can last, inspiring us to do more to protect our planet and to care more for our health and wellbeing. Our inclusive and sustainable plans for the Soapworks aim to close this ‘access gap’ by opening a new outdoor public space that will burst with plants and wildlife and welcome people from all walks of life  – right in the centre of Bristol.

Further reading

  • Download Bristol’s One City Ecological Emergency Strategy here.
  • First Base is a privately-owned mixed-use developer specialising in placemaking and urban regeneration. First Base collaborates with leading architects such as Fletcher Priest, AFK, Make, BuckleyGrayYeoman & AHMM to create a mix of workspace, modern retail, hotels, homes and cultural uses to revitalise high streets and town centres across the UK. Working in partnership with the public sector the company shapes its developments around the needs of the local community, embedding technology to create places that are future-enabled.
  • You can connect with Liam on LinkedIn here and follow the Soapworks development on Instagram here. For more details on the development, visit thesoapworksbristol.co.uk
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