intu has partnered with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), local authorities and local communities for ten years to establish Green Gyms® near intu centres around the UK. Green Gyms promote healthy activity, nurture community spirit and regenerate green spaces. This increases the sense of connectedness with the intu brand locally and strengthens relationships with local stakeholders. intu’s support, funding and volunteers have helped TCV establish ten Green Gyms. Each Green Gym becomes self-sustaining within a few years, allowing intu and TCV to focus their collective resources on new locations and create additional Green Gyms.
ENGAGING WITH COMMUNITIES AROUND INTU CENTRES
REGENERATING PUBLIC SPACES FOR ALL
EMPOWERING DISADVANTAGED LOCAL PEOPLE
1,060 VOLUNTEERS FROM LOCAL COMMUNITIES
£4 SOCIAL RETURN ON INVESTMENT FOR EVERY £1
intu owns and manages some of the UK's largest shopping centres, attracting 35 million customers each year. Operating responsibly is integral to intu. Three corporate responsibility pillars support intu’s long-term success: community and economy, environment, and relationships. The Green Gyms programme supports all three pillars.
Green Gyms are fun, free outdoor sessions where volunteers are guided in practical activities such as planting trees, sowing meadows and establishing wildlife ponds, with a focus on health and fitness. Volunteers warm up and cool down in preparation for a range of activities to suit all abilities.
In 2007, intu partnered with TCV to establish the first intu-supported Green Gym. TCV works across the UK to bring people and places together to create happy, healthy and connected communities for everyone.
Since then, intu and TCV have established ten Green Gyms together. Six are now self-sustaining, taken over by local communities near intu Bromley (this centre has recently been sold), intu Braehead, intu Trafford Centre and intu Watford. intu currently supports four Green Gyms, near intu Merry Hill, intu Milton Keynes, intu Uxbridge and intu Watford. Planning has started for a possible new Green Gym near intu Lakeside.
Once an appropriate green space has been agreed, typical early project stages for each Gym include:
Month 1: Recruit Project Officer to lead local activities, reporting to TCV.
Month 2: Project planning, initial partnership building and community engagement.
Month 3: Soft launch and start of weekly activities.
Month 4: Steering group meeting to plan official launch event.
Month 5: Official launch event.
TCV is regularly invited to intu centres to promote new Green Gyms to retail staff, intu teams and centre visitors. Community boards in each centre also carry information about Green Gyms and other local initiatives.
Community and environment
Green Gym volunteers 3
Additional evidence for benefits to volunteers includes:
1 New Economics Foundation 2015
2 Oxford Brookes University 2008
3 Surveyed through the National Evaluation Survey 2016
How to get the project off the ground?
Land is chosen based on broad criteria such as proximity to an intu centre, walking distance from a large residential population and availability of run-down green space owned by a local authority, intu or a potential partner. Additional factors considered include the range of activities that can be carried out on the site, safe access for people with mobility issues, public transport links and space for a tool store. The land owner’s support is vital, as they need to be willing to grant unrestricted public access to an under-used space. Eight of the Green Gyms are on local authority land, one on intu land and one on land owned by Peel, an intu partner. intu and TCV engage with the land owner – typically the local authority – on the benefits of the scheme through meetings. They also agree the details of the partnership early on, so all partners have a shared vision and there is a sense of equality. Where intu and TCV have already worked with local authorities on Green Gyms, new ones have been easier to establish, as there is already a partnership and all involved see the benefits.
How to engage the local community?
TCV recruits a part-time Project Officer trained in horticulture and countryside management, funded by intu. The Project Officer leads local activities at the beginning, engaging with the intu team, the local authority, resident groups, health bodies, schools, colleges, charities, businesses and other local partners. Health bodies often refer people on to Green Gyms, e.g. for gentle exercise if they do not want to go to a conventional gym, or as part of a recovery programme after hospital or addiction. Within each community, there are always one or two individuals who have transformative experiences through the Green Gym and share their stories, which inspires others. Green Gyms vary in how long they take to become established but, typically, they are self-sustaining within two to three years, with the community coming together to manage activities and community outreach. TCV keeps intu informed about Green Gyms that have been handed over to ensure that they continue running successfully.
How to overcome physical issues?
The Green Gym at Saltwells Nature Reserve, near intu Merry Hill, suffered a major setback in 2016 when it bore the brunt of severe localised flooding. This not only affected the infrastructure, but also had an impact on planned events over the summer to engage children in outdoor-themed activities such as bug hunting, den building and nature walks. However, the volunteers worked hard to restore the site back to its pre-flood condition and the Project Officer developed new plans to support holiday activity for children and other activities such as building a bird hide. Community support is key. By the end of the first year on site, there were 36 regular local volunteers connected with the intu Merry Hill Green Gym and 22 intu staff volunteers, which helped ensure the clean-up could commence without delay.
Corporate Responsibility Director
Mike Wood, MP for Dudley South
“Health and wellbeing are central to a thriving and balanced community. With the help of intu Merry Hill, TCV, Dudley Council and most importantly the community, this part of the Saltwells Nature Reserve will be restored to a place of magic for everyone to enjoy for years to come.”