Waterways have an annual social wellbeing value of £3.8bn

Research commissioned by the Canal and River Trust has put a “social wellbeing value” of £3.8bn per year on spending time by waterways.

The study, Assessing the wellbeing impacts of waterways usage in England and Wales, by social impact consultancy group Simetrica, found simply spending time by the waterways can make you happier and improve your life satisfaction. The Trust has linked this to tackling societal problems including increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions.

The research found that of the eight million people living within a kilometre of a waterway, currently just three in ten ever visit. “This gives us vast potential to make a meaningful impact on millions of lives,” said the Trust added that waterways are uniquely placed to make a significant contribution to improving the wellbeing of the nation. This is particularly because many run through deprived and urban communities where the potential impact is greatest. People living in the least prosperous areas are twice as likely to be physically inactive than those living in more prosperous areas.

The Trust set out the following “water ambitions” to boost wellbeing and community cohesion:

  • For the over seven million people (90%) who live close waterways to appreciate the benefits they can provide.

  • Waterways to be the catalyst for more cohesive communities. “We want one million volunteering hours every year, and for a quarter of the network (500 miles) to be adopted and cared for by local communities.”

  • One million children and young people to be engaged in waterways and actively benefit from them.

  • For the wellbeing benefits of waterside spaces to be celebrated with a quarter of the network awarded a prestigious Green Flag award.

  • For communities to provide their time as volunteers or to make a regular donation, so the waterways can continue to be cared and enjoyed by everyone.