Coca‑Cola GB Sustainability Manager, Liz Lowe, discusses how our summer ParkLives programme has helped build powerful friendships, and why it’s not too late to get involved:
We launched ParkLives in 2014, but we'd been working on its development for up to 18 months beforehand. The London 2012 Olympics was a really transformational time for our business. Afterwards we started thinking about how we could create a community programme that brought the spirit and ethos of the Games to local communities.
We thought long and hard about what that could be. We didn't just want it to be something off the peg, we wanted it to really make a difference – and if you listen to some of the people who have been involved with ParkLives, you can hear what it means to them.
The wonderful thing about ParkLives is there’s almost no reason not to join in. There are activities for every ability, you’ll get outside in the fresh air – our local parks are wonderful places to spend time – you can meet new friends and all the activities are completely free.
Over the years we’ve seen that our local parks are hubs for wellbeing in so many ways. I don’t think we expected that in the beginning. But what we've discovered is that by getting together on a regular basis, there’s something about being in open green space with a small group of likeminded people that can boost almost every aspect of your wellbeing.
Even something as simple as a walk in the park can do it. You’d never believe it, until you get involved and see what a difference it can make. It’s just carving out an hour or so in the week to get outside, meet friends (old and new) and make the most of these beautiful green spaces that we have in the centres of our towns and cities.
It's not just physical wellbeing, it's also about feeling good, making friends and feeling like you're part of a community.
We’re a big team, all our ParkLives partners and the team at Coca‑Cola GB, and we’ve all enjoyed seeing how ParkLives has developed and grown over the last four years. While we’ve supported the scheme with publicity and promotion locally, the most important route for people to hear about ParkLives is through word of mouth. Friends or family telling them about it and recommending it. And usually, once people start, they tend to come back. And bring more friends and family too.
One ParkLives example I love is a particular walking group in one of Manchester’s parks: it started off pretty low key – just come and have a walk, a bit of a chat and a cup of tea.
What has developed over time is amazing: there are some moving stories of people recovering from bereavement, struggling with depression or simply feeling lonely and a bit isolated. Being in this group has given them a lifeline. They look forward to the walks each week and to feeling like they can have a laugh with friends.
Stories like this are replicated in all our ParkLives cities, and they’re a real testament to the fantastic local session leaders who do the most amazing job bringing their personalities, warmth and encouragement to each ParkLives session.
My hope for the immediate future is for more people to get involved with ParkLives and make the most of their parks and local communities. But that ultimately the lessons learned from this programme can be taken and replicated all over the country. Our parks are amazing – they're such rich assets for our communities – let's work to support them and bring out their full potential for everyone.
There’s still time to get involved with ParkLives this year. Find out what’s happening in a park near you with the ParkLives activity finder.