Scottish Canals is the public corporation of the Scottish Government responsible for managing the country’s inland waterways and is determined to bring these once vital trade routes back to life. It has invested more than £84m in regenerating the Forth and Clyde Canals as part of its Millennium Link project.
Funded by The Data Lab, researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University worked with Scottish Canals on a study exploring the health impact of this regeneration.
Access to outdoor space for recreation and physical activity is essential for our health and well-being. The world is becoming increasingly urban, which poses severe health and climate challenges. Most cities in the world are built around water, whether canals, rivers or coasts, and these blue spaces are underused assets for public health.
In Scotland, 1.5 million people live within 3km of a canal. Once the lifeblood of communities across the UK, hundreds of miles of canals in Scotland have been left to ruin as their value to the economy slowly diminished.
The reopening of Scotland’s canals in 2001 and subsequent Scottish Government funding over the last 18 years has been the catalyst to unlocking £1.53m of public and private investment across Scotland, transforming canal corridors and supporting some of Scotland’s most challenged communities.
By partnering with The Data Lab, the organisation worked with Data Scientists from Glasgow Caledonian University to undertake a three-year research project to determine the positive health and wellbeing benefits of its multi-million-pound investment to local communities across Glasgow and the Clyde.
Data scientists from Glasgow Caledonian University undertook the most extensive study of its kind to see if there was any evidence that linked living close to canals or “blue spaces” to lower mortality and better physical and mental health and levelling of health inequalities.
This involved analysing patient-level healthcare data from primary care sources, including NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Safe Haven records, spatial data from GIS, and depravation and demographic data from the National Records of Scotland. As part of this, approximately 2 million IDs, spanning 19 years, were de-identified and used during the study.
The two-part project ran from 2019 – 2022 and looked at the impact of the regeneration along the Forth and Clyde Canal in North Glasgow – one of Europe’s most deprived areas. The study aimed to highlight any significant physical and mental well-being benefits that could be achieved from investing in regenerating urban waterways globally.
“This study was crucial to demonstrating that regenerating Scotland’s historic canals brings significant health and wellbeing benefits to local communities.
The support we received from The Data Lab and the data scientists at Glasgow Caledonian University was unrivalled and ultimately helped us secure additional funding so we can continue to revitalise blue spaces and demonstrate internationally the positive impact of living next to water.”Catherine Topley, CEO, Scottish Canals.
As a result of the study, Data Scientists from Glasgow Caledonian University found a clear link between living within 700 meters of the newly regenerated Forth and Clyde Canal with a lower chance of developing chronic health issues.
Specifically, individuals living within this catchment were found to have a 15% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease – such as a stroke or hypertension, as well as reduce their risk of diabetes by 12% and obesity by 10% – two of the critical health issues facing Scotland – compared to individuals who lived between close to but outside of this area. In addition, the canals’ regeneration contributed to reducing the impact of deprivation and poverty on mental health in the community around the canals.
With 1.5 million people living near waterways in Scotland alone and the Forth and Clyde Canal flowing through some of the country’s most economically disadvantaged areas, the research has shown that canal restoration efforts could have a hugely positive impact on residents’ lives and reduce the risk of urban health inequalities for those most at risk. Following the successful completion of the study, Scottish Canals secured a further £12m in funding to continue their restoration work across Scotland.
The study provides the backbone of evidence for “Blueprint” guidelines to inform global future regeneration and development of green and blue spaces currently in development in collaboration with the Hydro Nation Scholar programme.
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