Make Space for Us

Our blog on Women In Sport/Yorkshire Sport's report on barriers to parks for teenage girls

July 1, 2022
February 22, 2023
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Faithful followers of our blogs may recall that in August 2021 we were setting off the confetti cannons in response to the fabulous vision shown by Yorkshire Sport who had recognised that research was needed into the barriers faced by teenage girls in using parks. Now their report is out, the first piece of UK research into teenage girls and parks paces, and you can find it here.

Amidst much whooping and “way to go-ing” from ourselves, and driven by the fantastic team at Women In Sport the study ran from November 2021 to May 2022, actively seeking out the voices of teenage girls in West and South Yorkshire. The researchers designed a survey to understand the attitudes towards and perceptions of parks and engaged 456 teenage respondents (221 boys and 235 girls) from three schools in Sheffield, Kirklees and Rotherham. The team also undertook five sets of face-to-face focus groups with 24 girls aged13-21 who were representative of local park communities (three community and two school groups). The team also engaged with local stakeholders (for example parks professionals, councils and community groups).

They key findings of the study were:

  • Girls use parks less than boys
  • Girls face many barriers to using the parks as a space to be active.
  • These barriers comes from: a lack of understanding of the needs of teenage girls in park design; and the way society treats teenage girls if they do go to the park.
  • These barriers stifle the girls’ opportunities to enjoy the amazing public resources that our parks ought to be
  • These barriers limit the rights of teenage girls to enjoy the many health and wellbeing benefits of being outside.

Faithful followers of Make Space for Girls will know that we have been telling people this since we first started campaigning to make park spaces more welcoming to girls. But until now we have had to make our case based on research from overseas, citing research from the US and Australia; Sweden and Austria.

But No More! The surveys have been returned; the numbers crunched and the infographics crafted: at last we have UK research about UK teens and UK parks. The case for change is undeniable and the days when councils automatically reached for a skate park and MUGA as their “teen provision” are, surely, numbered(well, you can't blame us for being optimistic, can you?)

The research goes beyond just stating what they found from engaging with teenage girls. The research starts to formulate solutions. And the key recommendations are:

  • Involve teenage girls in shaping the parks and communities they live in
  • Consult and co-create with local teenage girls to design and develop inclusive, active parks that meet girls’ needs, and those of the wider community
  • Create varied, exciting and innovative spaces to support girls to get active
  • Facilitate organised opportunities and community events for girls to enjoy physical activity with others.
  • Reframe perceptions of parks as active spaces for everyone, with local campaigns and messaging.

Again, you will spot a number of familiar Make Space for Girls themes. Involving teenage girls in shaping their local parks: tick; creating varied, exciting and innovative spaces: tick; reframing parks as spaces for everyone: really big tick.

And what about the exam question that we get asked quite a lot, namely: well if girls don’t like  MUGAs/fenced pitches, what do they want? Did the researchers get anywhere with this? Heck, yes.

In answer to the question: what would help you to do more sport and exercise in your local park? these were the responses: (379 respondents – 194 girls/185boys)

OK, so it is official. The survey says: swings are nearly 3 times more welcoming to teenage girls than a MUGA/fenced pitch. And play and adventure are important to teenage girls. And here’s a thing to ponder on: this survey says that swings are more welcoming to teenage boys than a skate park. In fact  the only thing less welcoming to teenage boys than a skate park is a dance space.

So there we have it: while skateparks and MUGAs are the most common teen provision and are dominated by boys, they aren’t even seen as welcoming by the majority of boys.

When Yorkshire Sport presented the report to an audience a couple of weeks ago ,there was genuine surprise at these statistics. One response was, "Shock that MUGAs are so far down the list of things that young people want - what else could be used?"

Perhaps our optimism is well founded: the days when councils automatically reached for a skate park and MUGA as their “teen provision” may be numbered.

Because the report was produced by two organisations with Sport in their name, it i snaturally focussed on activity in parks. At Make Space for Girls, we are all for activity, but we also recognise that parks and public spaces aren't jus tthere for that, but also simply as places to be. And that's what we'll be focusing on in my next installment...

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