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Anti-advertising campaigners warn that introducing advertising into Bristol’s green spaces could detract from the wellbeing they provide.

There is growing evidence to support what we all already know about parks: they’re good for us. With Bristol’s mental health services at crisis point, free spaces like parks have a proven positive effect on well being and are now more important than ever.

According to one US study, people living in greener urban areas were, on average, happier than people living in places with less greenery around. Parks may be about to become a whole lot busier though, as Bristol City Council (BCC) eyes them up as places for profit, not only calm. After encountering fierce opposition – more than 4,400 signed a ‘Protect Our Parks’ petition – BCC backtracked on its initial plan to make parks become cost neutral. However as it stands, our parks will still lose £2.86m a year from 2019 as the council tries to close the £108m budget gap. The council says that services will need to be “run in a very different way, working in partnership with communities to look at income generation opportunities, while also making savings and making services as efficient as possible”.

Being put in the position of being a consumer in a place where we’re trying to find relaxation and escape from all of that doesn’t seem right at all

BCC has considered a number of different potential earners for parks in the the consultation, which is open to the public until Monday, January 29th. Suggestions include, hosting more events, introducing paid-for activities and bringing in more cafes. Whatever option the council goes with, it’s likely to make big changes to how parks feel. But the proposal that has got people talking is the possibility of rolling out  advertising in parks, which the council say would bring in at least £50,000 a year.

“It feels like a very extreme step to take, to introduce advertising,” says Nicola Round, co-founder of anti-advertising campaign group Adblock Bristol.

“While we do understand that there are funding issues in the council, is it really, ‘any way we can find money we’ll take it?’”

“Parks are places for leisure, places to nurture our well being, they’re places where we go to escape the stresses of modern living,” says Round. “Introducing advertising which is designed to make us feel inadequate and stressed out in order to make us buy completely contradicts that.”

Councils don’t have a statutory duty to maintain parks so arguably it’s logical that they’ll be among the first services to feel the squeeze of the cuts. However Melinda Green, a writer and member of Friends of Eastville Park, insists that advertising is not the answer.

“I think parks are places for relaxation, rest, peace and de-stressing. Advertising has huge influence on people, even if you’re just walking by.

“I find my inspiration in open green spaces. It’s vital to creativity.”

Meanwhile, Round says that she is concerned that allowing advertising in our green spaces could reduce the positive impact that parks have on wellbeing.

“Advertising exists to make us buy stuff. It uses messages that make us feel inadequate in order to make us spend.”

“Being put in the position of being a consumer in a place where we’re trying to find relaxation and escape from all of that doesn’t seem right at all.”

“Appropriate advertising”

The council consultation says that the advertising would be “appropriate” and that the move wouldn’t allow advertising for tobacco, alcohol, e-cigarettes, religions or political parties or pay-day loans, or any content contravening the council’s equalities policies or seeming to offer escort or sexual services.

But this list of prohibited content doesn’t include a lot of advertising that some argue is detrimental to people’s well being and mental health.

Round says that there is a particular concern around children and fast food advertising. Research suggests that children are particularly susceptible to advertising, with children under seven less able to recognise the “persuasive intent of commercial appeals”.

“Children see thousands of advertising messages every day and we have a problem with childhood obesity in Bristol. Do we really want to be exposing our children to adverts exposing them to these unsustainable lifestyles with junk food?” she asks.

Rob Acton-Campbell, Secretary of Bristol Parks Forum, says that all the suggested ways of generating revenue would be ok, “provided it’s not too much and people still have a place to go”.

“We don’t want the place full of advertising billboards, but I’m sure that’s not what they’re planning,” he said. “There needs to be an agreement as to what extent there will be advertising.”

A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “The current Parks consultation will help the council decide whether advertising in parks is an option it wishes to go ahead with and if so, it will help define in more detail what advertising is appropriate. A report should be published online within three to four weeks of the consultation closing.”


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