intu Boosts Health and Wellbeing Through Green Gyms


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.







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.


  • Creating compelling experiences in attractive physical environments is at the heart of what intu does, so the Green Gym concept of regenerating and enhancing green spaces close to intu centres had inherent appeal.
  • Actively engaging with the local community, beyond donating money. Green Gyms offer opportunities for the intu team to volunteer, for retailers to get involved and for positive links to be built with local authorities and communities.
  • Generating a legacy for the local community. Green Gyms create sustainable opportunities for vulnerable local people to help themselves, to form friendships with people in similar situations and to enjoy green spaces.
  • Bringing environmental benefits for wildlife, aligning with intu’s focus on managing its own environmental impacts.


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.

Aims include:

  • Improving participants’ physical health and mental wellbeing, and promoting the benefits of outdoor activities.
  • Managing and developing the quality of habitats for wildlife near intu centres.
  • Engaging local people in previously neglected green space.
  • Further strengthening intu’s local community links.

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.



  • intu invests around £16,000 per year in each Green Gym until they become self-sustaining, as well as volunteering time and in-kind support such as facilities management and specialist trades, e.g. to erect signs.
  • TCV leverages intu’s contribution, gaining match funding or some additional funds from grant-making bodies who support charities.
  • Local authorities often provide space, support and in-kind donations such as gardening tools and containers.
  • Local communities contribute over 18,000 volunteer hours annually across the ten Green Gyms.


  • £4.02 social return on investment for every £1 invested in Green Gyms1.
  • TCV monitor PR value, evaluating media hits (such as Tweets) for each Green Gym supported by intu, which is approved by the intu Board three times a year.
  • Returns are ongoing, with Green Gyms becoming self-sustaining and delivering lasting community benefit.



  • Engaging with communities around intu centres, including local authorities and public health bodies who refer people to Green Gyms.
  • Increasing connectedness with the intu brand, e.g. local mayors and other stakeholders commending intu nationally and locally for delivering sustainable community benefits in partnership with TCV.
  • Motivating intu staff and contributing to their wellbeing, e.g. positive feedback from staff who have volunteered on Green Gyms and inspiring talks for staff by people who have benefited from Green Gyms.
  • Engaging with occupiers, offering retail staff opportunities to participate in volunteering projects.
  • Improving the local natural environment and thus increasing the area’s desirability.
  • Supporting intu’s corporate responsibility strategy.

Community and environment

  • Regenerating neglected public spaces for all – from run-down areas in city centre parks to land gone to seed out of town.
  • Empowering local people with medical, social, educational and employment disadvantages – helping them learn new skills, form new friendships, improve their health, build confidence and enhance their job prospects.
  • Improving health and wellbeing of people living and working close to intu centres through sociable outdoor activity. Many Green Gym volunteers are recovering from mental or physical illness, surgery or loneliness.
  • Increasing social interaction and reducing social isolation by creating opportunities for people to build new and lasting friendships that can help them re-engage with the wider community.
  • Contributing to biodiversity, e.g. enhancing and protecting wildlife habitats for newts, dragonflies and locally scarce bird species, including woodland management.
  • Reducing health inequalities, with Green Gyms actively engaging with withdrawn and hard-to-reach groups. Green Gym volunteers with the poorest health are nine times more likely to substantially improve their health2.

Green Gym volunteers 3

  • 100% report benefits to their mental health.
  • 95% learn new skills such as horticulture, construction and team leadership.
  • 80% feel closer to people in their local area.
  • 66% feel more confident.
  • 50% more time spent in physical activity than before.
  • 26% reduction in anxiety.
  • 22% increase in feeling satisfied with life.
  • 21% increase in happiness.

Additional evidence for benefits to volunteers includes:

  • Green Gyms are officially endorsed by the Department of Health and validated at Level 2 of the Nesta Standards of Evidence.
  • Physical improvements for participants include cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, Mental Health Component Score and waist-to-hip ratio.
  • Almost a third more calories can be burnt in some Green Gym sessions than in an average aerobics class.

1 New Economics Foundation 2015

2 Oxford Brookes University 2008 

3 Surveyed through the National Evaluation Survey 2016

Challenges & Achievements


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.

Find out more

Alexander Nicoll

Corporate Responsibility Director


“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.”

Mike Wood, MP for Dudley South