Mackman Research was commissioned by Chelmsford City Council in Essex to research the use of parks and gardens, specifically by families on low incomes and minority groups. They also wanted to explore what would change behaviour. These findings would inform future Council campaigns which aim to get more people to use the parks and gardens. Chelmsford City Council were looking for an innovative and bespoke methodology and were open to Mackman Research challenging their brief and testing the theory that low income groups are definitely low users of the parks and gardens. Gemma, Mackman’s Research Director, proposed an approach which checked this assumed theory out and came up with a methodology which kicked off with an audit. The results from this first study would inform the second part of the research brief (‘what would help change the behaviour of these groups’).
When it came to choosing a methodology, Chelmsford City Council needed a robust sample which would represent the population of the City (They made it clear that they would be wary of making a decision based on a number of small focus groups). Therefore it was important Mackman Research design a methodology which was statistically sound, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Part of the research design involved defining what a ‘low income’ is; Mackman Research helped define this in collaboration with Chelmsford City Council. This definition had to take in to account the unprecedented economic conditions.
Gemma designed a research process which was split into two phases. The first phase sought to audit all City Council run parks and gardens in a bid to discover who was using the parks; how frequently and for what purpose they were using the parks. Participants were asked where they lived and how they travelled to parks. Demographic questions were also asked during this phase, including participant’s disposable income. The results of the first phase informed the second phase of the research and gave way to direct targeting of Chelmsford residents in areas of deprivation (likely to be of low educational attainment) (see below).
Mackman Research used a mixed methodology approach which combined quantitative statistical representation (of the local population) with qualitative data gathering methods. Our researchers approached all participants on a face-to-face basis and interviewed a total of 816 respondents. All surveys were anonymous and participants were notified of this.
The data gathering process was split into 2 phases. The 1st phase set out to record who was using each park and test the theory of low-income non-users. The phase 1 survey population contained 445 respondents. This figure achieved a 95% confidence level and a +/- 4.64% confidence interval, based upon a total Chelmsford city population of 162,000. Following this audit stage, we were able to identify profile gaps in the users of Chelmsford parks. From the data it was clear that low income families were using the parks and gardens and the number of park users with a disability and from a minority group were also representative of the Chelmsford population.
Whilst it was evident that there were fewer unemployed park users than employed and fewer users with low educational qualifications, low educational achievers came through as major non-users of the parks and therefore it was valid for Mackman to have challenged the theory that low income and minority groups were considered the main group who weren’t using the parks.
As a result, and according to the research methodology, phase 2 directly targeted those who are not using parks and gardens and investigated barriers to park use. Data gathering commenced face-to-face at the Job Centre and Benefits Office and door-to-door with areas known for a high proportion of unemployed residents. During this stage, data collection was targeted to specific geographical areas of deprivation. 371 respondents completed the phase 2 questionnaire, achieving a confidence level of 95% and a confidence interval of +/-5%, of a low-income Chelmsford city population of 9,500. In addition, a request was sent from Chelmsford City Council to the Council Community Coordinator to reach neighbourhood groups in North West Chelmsford. Attendees at the Wisdom Group (held every Monday morning for older, vulnerable / lonely people) completed the questionnaire in paper format.
The parks research has been invaluable to the City Council and is thought to be the first of its kind within the UK. This original piece of research has helped identify areas for improvement and informed marketing to help raise awareness of the parks and gardens, encouraging more of Chelmsford’s residents to enjoy the wonderful parks close to them. The unparalleled knowledge that low educational achievers were a target group to encourage in to using the parks of Chelmsford, was a main driver for the Council’s projects and practices going forward. Thus, this research was central to the Council’s strategy for parks and green spaces in Chelmsford. Among a number of aims this strategy looked at, community involvement and participation in planning, opportunities to improve security, reduce fear of crime and anti-social behaviour, opportunities to improve facilities and create new spaces, increasing the range of activities, supporting biodiversity and enhancing the natural environment. At the heart of this was the acknowledgement that parks and green spaces provide quality of life, and these areas are the “lungs” within the urban environment. The Green Flag Award® Scheme recognises and rewards the best green spaces in the country and recognises “the many benefits that good quality parks and green spaces can provide in enhancing people’s quality of life and creating decent, attractive places where people want to live, work and play. That is why they form part of the [Government’s] programme to build stronger, more sustainable communities now and in the future.” *
The parks research was put forward by Chelmsford City Council to the annual Government Business Awards, which encourage and reward effective business practice in the public sector. The project won the top prize for Market Research.
In August 2013, Chelmsford City Council secured the highest number of Green Flag Awards in the Eastern region, with ten awards for the quality of its parks. In addition, the city received a number of Green Heritage and Green Flag Community Awards.
*Yvette Cooper, Minister for Regeneration – The Green Flag Award Guidance Manual
“Parks and Heritage Services, Chelmsford City Council commissioned Mackman Group to help us understand why ‘low income’ groups are ‘low users’ of public parks and gardens and recommend what could change behaviour. The project team delivered a great piece of research. Based on our experience the following qualities were apparent: 1) Flexible: Especially since we adapted the methodology to reach the target audience, 2) Question development: The team was positive and constructive in questionnaire design, integrating our local knowledge with their expertise. 3) Approachable: the Mackman team adopted a collaborative and can-do approach. 4) Reporting: was clear and in-depth.”
Fiona Foskett, Marketing Officer – Chelmsford City Council