It's hard to believe a year has passed since the beginning of the Olympic Games. The four weeks of action showcased Britain like never before and captured the imagination of a global audience. Team GB certainly rose to the occasion, creating moments that will be replayed for years to come. From the Brownlee brothers' emotional embrace at the end of their triathlon, to the deafening roar of the audience as Heather Stanning and Helen Glover stormed to victory in the women's coxless pairs, the Games truly showed Britain at its very greatest.
Beyond the Olympic park and host borough communities, much has been said about national mood and cohesion. The sense of community around the Games was certainly palpable; moving London away from 'business-as-usual' to one big conversation. Leading up to the Games, the procession of the Olympic Torch took the Games' spirit far beyond the host borough communities to all corners of the UK. And for those few weeks last summer, London became hyper-connected, with people sharing passions and interests with others they knew and would get to know. Across the UK, commentators began remarking that people had even begun talking on the London underground, igniting a greater sense of community than had ever been observed before.
No sooner had the Games ended than the conversation turned to legacy; legacy in terms of funding for sports in schools; legacy in terms of increasing participation in sports across the UK; legacy for the Olympic park itself, and legacy for our communities. Like many NGOs, we wanted to make sense of and harness the Olympic spirit in our own activities.
We saw the Olympic legacy as much about community goodwill as sporting achievement and we knew that we wanted to translate the buzz into practical action for the communities we serve. That's why, as part of our role as strategic partner to the Olympic legacy programme Britain's Personal Best, we've launched a challenge to transform the equivalent of 20 Olympic Parks of green space across the UK by the Rio Games in 2016.
Britain's Personal Best campaign is aiming to keep the 2012 Olympic spirit alive by mobilising people to push themselves to do better in any part of their lives; and our call is for the public to help us by using, improving and protecting their local environments. Keeping the flame alive for us is about leveraging the sense of collective pride around the Games to affect positive change. Our public pledge to transform 40 million square metres of green space, the equivalent of 20 Olympic parks, into thriving community green spaces by 2016 will only be realised if businesses and groups buy-in to help us in this quest.
Green spaces matter to us all, yet parks and natural spaces across the UK are under threat as local authorities grapple with shrinking budgets and competing priorities. Too often, investment in green infrastructure is seen as entirely separate to investment in other public services. Our Britain's Personal Best challenge aims to demonstrate that this type of investment can reap huge return on investment in terms of wider community health and wellbeing. The potential for well-managed green spaces to reduce budgets in other public services is well established - with research showing that individuals with easy access to green space are 40 per cent less likely to become obese, a condition which currently costs the NHS £5bn per year to manage.
And we only have to look back at the heat wave of July 2013 to remind ourselves of the more obvious benefits of our green spaces. Just last week a survey by Natural England highlighted the value people place on parks and green spaces. The research showed that 4.3 billion visits were made by people to urban parks and green spaces over the last four years, with nearly 90 per cent of visitors saying the visit made them feel refreshed and revitalised, or calm and relaxed.
But we know that in cash-strapped times these resources are likely to bear the brunt of difficult decision-making on priorities. Let's be clear, without radical thinking, budget reductions could lead to a decline in the quantity and quality of accessible green space in our towns and cities - with significant consequences for health and wellbeing.
Our challenge is to motivate businesses and mobilise the public to work creatively with local authorities to make our challenge a reality. We want every park across the UK to be someone's 'Olympic Park', delivering the same benefits for communities across the country.
If we work together we can create a new kind of Team GB - striving for a Great Green Britain.