OPEN & AIR – Encouraging the Use of the Outdoors
Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland
Region & country
Oulu Region, Finland
Parks & Wildllife Finland had a strategy called Healthy Parks, Healthy People & the Oulu region had a new policy to tackle the challenges of sedentary lifestyles and mental health problems. The OPEN AIR projects were delivery and implementation of this strategy and policy. Both projects formed a project unity:
- OPEN (Oulu Parks – Enjoying Nature) focused on providing quality natural outdoor environments for the citizens of Oulu, aiming to activate people to spend time in the outdoors and to engage in regular physical activity in green spaces. Communicated as a form of preventive medicine Oulu strives to replicate the model across Finland. The Oulu Parks Concept brings together different types of sites in the region in a green continuum, from large park-like nature sites in the city centre to the National Parks in wilderness, regardless of the site owner.
- AIR (Activation, Interaction and Recreation) was about finding new ways to provide therapy in natural environments and Protected Areas for different target groups, utilizing “OPEN” locations, and involving nursing students.
Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland
Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland
Background of the project
- Sedentary lifestyle and mental health problems constitute emerging challenges.
- Increasing evidence substantiates the beneficial effects of the natural environment on physical activity, health and well-being.
- There is need to find new ways for promoting health and well-being through nature, especially among most vulnerable population groups.
- It is important that policy- and decision-makers, as well as other stakeholders, understand the meaning of green spaces, and what actions are needed to provide and improve conditions for health-enhancing physical activity.
- From a (potential) visitor´s point of view, it is necessary to provide up-to-date and accurate information of the sites in one place, regardless of the site owner. This is an efficient service for people, but it is also an extremely good way to encourage physical activity in the outdoors.
Solution and actions taken
The OPEN project combined different types of sites in the Oulu region in a green continuum, from large park-like nature sites in the city center to the National Parks in wilderness, regardless of the site owner. The Oulu Parks Concept brought together those individual sites to form part of a network under a common brand –“Oulu Parks”- that was then communicated and marketed as a part of preventive health services in the project region, thus raising the profile and increasing appreciation of the sites. The project has established a model to make information about the “Oulu Parks” network accessible and can be replicated across Finland.
The AIR project utilized nature and outdoor experiences in OPEN sites in their activities aimed at preventing social exclusion among young people undergoing rehabilitation, other special target groups and also in improving occupational therapy. It modeled the use of the natural environment and nature related activities in various forms of rehabilitation to prevent social exclusion. Participants – rehabilitation groups at the Oulu Deaconess Institute – are taken on nature trips with the aim to bring different outdoor experiences to the lives of young people and immigrants on rehabilitation programmes. Trips have involved engaging in various forms of physical activity in natural settings and taking part in nature management work in nature reserves, visiting cultural heritage sites, and observing nature. Feedback has been gathered from the participants. Another pilot action involved outdoor activities and nature management work in nature reserves related to occupational therapy. One action of the project was to develop training for health care professionals, in collaboration with the health sector. The purpose of the study module was to increase the capacity of practical nurse students to utilize the natural environment and outdoor activities in their future work.
Other institutions or parties involved
OPEN: Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland carried out the OPEN project in the region of Oulu, in collaboration with municipalities and the University of Jyväskylä. The two year project started in April 2012 and had a total budget of €380,000, including funds from the European Reginonal Development Fund.
AIR: The AIR project was launched in April 2012 as a two-year project managed by Metsähallitus together with the Oulu Deaconess Institute. Its total its budget was €160,000 and it was funded by the European Social Fund and supervised by the Council of Oulu Region, Metsähallitus and the Oulu Deaconess Institute.
- The Oulu Parks Concept was launched: The information and presentations about the concept´s different kind of outdoor destinations were published on the website visitoulu.fi . During 2017, the Oulu Parks Concept was updated within the project Attractive Oulu Region)
- The publication Terveyttä luonnosta (Health through Nature) demonstrating nature´s positive impacts on health and well-being was published together with the University of Oulu. The publication summarizes the different research results.
- A technical solution how cities and municipalities can easily publish their own outdoor destinations on the Parks & Wildlife Finland’s Excursionmap was developed together with the University of Jyväskylä. This part of the project outcome was developed further in Parks & Wildlife Finland’s project Kuntien luontoliikuntapaikat retkikarttaan (Municipalities Outdoor Destinations for Excursionmap) during 2015 and 2016.Further information: Senior Advisor Matti Tapaninen, Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland, e-mail: tapaninen_at_metsa.fi
There should be more attention towards accessibility, accessible services and easy access to nature destinations. (This observation during the OPEN AIR project caused a new kind of accessibility development work in Parks & Wildlife Finland. It materialized within a project called Everyone Outdoors together with the Finnish Federation of Adapted Physical Activity. The project is work in progress.)
It can be difficult to bring together different organizations’ (cities, municipalities, Parks &Wildlife Finland etc.) information about nature destinations within one common website, because of e.g. technical and policy reasons, but also because of different resources.
Furthermore, two years are quite a short time to carry out these kind of projects. and there was, for instance, no time for participatory planning.
However, collaboration between experts and different organizations increases the multi-directional sharing of information and the exchange of know-how.
Multi-sectoral cooperation is necessary for the creation of new and concrete ways to promote health and well-being through the encouragement of outdoor recreation and physical activity among different target groups.
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