News article created on 23 May 2018

Happiness available on your doorstep

We’re setting out how our former industrial waterways can improve the wellbeing of millions of people. Our canals and rivers run through some of the most heavily populated communities in England and Wales, providing accessible green and blue space where it’s needed the most.

With ever increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, and debilitating conditions including rising levels of stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions in the UK, we believe waterways and our free-to-use towpaths are uniquely placed to make a significant contribution to improving the wellbeing of the nation.

New independent research published today shows that simply spending time by the waterways can make you happier and improve your life satisfaction, with an equivalent estimated social wellbeing value of £3.8bn per year.

Many of the waterways that we care for run through some of our country’s most deprived and multi-cultural urban communities, where their potential impact is greatest. People living in the least prosperous areas are twice as likely to be physically inactive than those living in more prosperous areas.

A report that we commissioned, ‘Assessing the wellbeing impacts of waterways usage in England and Wales’, written by social impact consultancy group Simetrica, reveals:

  • Any visit to a waterway is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction and visiting regularly is associated with even higher levels of life satisfaction.
  • The associated benefits of visiting a canal or river increase with the length of visit, with research showing higher levels of happiness and lower levels of anxiety for longer trips.

Our research also reveals that three quarters of towpath users say they visit to ‘get away from it all and clear my head’, and because they are ‘great places to relax and de-stress’. However, of the eight million people living within a kilometre of a waterway, currently just three in ten ever visit. This gives us vast potential to make a meaningful impact on millions of lives.

An infographic about making life better by water Making life better by water

This is why we’re setting out this enhanced new role for the waterways, to improve the health, happiness and wellbeing for those living in waterside communities. The new report describes the impact that England & Wales’ 200-year-old waterways can have on a society that’s ranked just 19th in the World Happiness Report and is home to 20 million people who are physically inactive, with some of the worst rates of mental health in the world.

Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust, comments: “Our waterways are an amazing historic legacy for us all and it is exhilarating to find that they can play such an important new role in our lives. This research presents clear evidence for what we might all experience, that we can make life better by water. For the millions of people living alongside them, especially in our towns and cities where green space is at a premium, canals and rivers can provide a boost to health, happiness and wellbeing. They are free to use and on people’s doorstep.

“Working with partners and local communities, we believe that waterways have the power to make a real difference to people’s lives. We’re on a mission to make the most of the benefits they can provide.”

Significant benefits

Daniel Fujiwara, founding director at Simetrica, which offers social impact analysis and policy evaluation of the highest scientific rigour to governments, international organisations, and the private and not-for-profit sectors, comments: “Evidence shows that spending time by water is associated with higher levels of happiness. There are a number of studies underway by the Trust to precisely measure and demonstrate the value of these waterways – in improving people’s wellbeing and the significant benefits this could offer to the NHS and the nation at large.”

In the last year we have needed to spend more than £100 million on maintaining and caring for the waterways, making them available for people to escape to, for exercise, or simply to spend time away from the daily routine. Our waterways attract nearly 400 million visits each year.

‘Water’ ambition:

  • We want over seven million people (90%) who live close to the waterway to appreciate the benefits they can provide
  • Waterways can be the catalyst for more cohesive communities. We want one million volunteering hours every year, and for a quarter of the network (500 miles) to be adopted and cared for by local communities
  • We want one million children and young people to be engaged in our waterways and actively benefit from them
  • We want the wellbeing benefits of our beautiful waterside spaces to be celebrated with a quarter of the network awarded a prestigious Green Flag award.

We are calling on communities to provide their time as volunteers or to make a regular donation, so the waterways can continue to be cared and enjoyed by everyone.