Research finds access to outdoors vital to families’ wellbeing

Access to the outdoors and spending time together in it, is more important than ever for families, a national *survey by the 90-year-old youth charity YHA (England & Wales) has found.

The survey results, which were published by YHA on its 90th anniversary (10 April 2020), found that 93% of families regard access to the outdoors as vital, with an important boost to mental health (78%) and access to fresh air (86%) being listed as the top benefits.

With more than two million households – many with children – living through lockdown without access to a garden, YHA led the research to discover how the lack of access to the outdoors during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown is affecting families and will affect their future decision-making.

The survey results chime with YHA’s new 10-year strategy which honours the charity’s social reformist roots. In 1930 YHA was established with a commitment to ensure access to travel and adventure for all – especially those who have the fewest opportunities but the most to gain from these experiences. The strategy – ‘Adventure. For the first time and a lifetime. Our 10-year strategy for connecting people and places’ – will be launched on 30 April 2020.

In YHA alone, more than 200,000 young people will miss out this year on the chance for a life changing stay. Sadly, in many cases this will be the only chance in their childhood to see the sea, visit a museum or roll down a hill. 

Currently YHA’s 153-strong network of youth hostels is closed until 31st July 2020, with a number turned over to support the most vulnerable.

As and when restrictions lift, YHA is committed to playing a key role in the recovery of society – helping people reconnect with each other, the outdoors, nature, culture and heritage.

Ahead of the re-opening of the network, YHA has extended its Project90 appeal fund to provide free stays for the families of 900 NHS staff, public sector and frontline workers who have made personal sacrifices during the pandemic,

Post pandemic, the charity has pledged to enable even more young people and their families to access the benefits of the outdoors and help rebuild the nation. Over the next five years, it aims to welcome five million people to youth hostels with a particular focus on those young people who could benefit the most.

James Blake, Chief Executive of YHA (England & Wales) said: “Like so many other organisations, the Coronavirus pandemic has hit YHA hard. But 90 years of history has shown us that YHA will have a key role to play in the recovery of society. In the short term I am pleased that we have been able to repurpose some hostels to support the national effort to fight the virus and protect the most vulnerable.

“Longer term this research shows just how critical access to the outdoors will be for so many people, particularly those who do not have gardens or access to local open spaces. As we did 90 years ago and have been doing ever since, through our hostel network we will continue to ensure that the beauty and breadth of England and Wales are brought within everyone’s reach.”

Research also found that more than three quarters (77%) of parents surveyed believe that an annual family holiday is important in order to spend more time with their family (78%), however 12% of survey respondents had not been able to take a family holiday at all in the last three years.

With the rise in popularity of multi-generational holidays in recent years coupled with many families being separated due to isolation, YHA is now working to see how it can help more families book whole hostels for extended family breaks.

Founded in 1930 against a backdrop of social reform, disadvantage and poverty, YHA revolutionised travel in Britain. For the first time, anyone – irrespective of means, age, sex, race or creed – could explore England and Wales under their own steam, secure in the knowledge they would find welcoming and affordable accommodation in a youth hostel. Today, YHA’s new strategy remains true to its founding principles.

James Blake added: “A stay in a YHA has always been a great equaliser, bringing together people from different social backgrounds to enjoy shared experiences, form new friendships and create shared memories. YHA’s unique ability to facilitate meaningful connections in the real world cannot be understated today, given the current situation.”

YHA had a full programme of local and national events planned to celebrate its 90th anniversary. All events have been postponed until later in the year and into 2021, and celebrations have been brought online. YHA is continuing to fundraise for its Project90 appeal to mark the charity’s 90th anniversary.

The project aims to reach a total of 900 young people as well as 900 families of key workers involved in the COVID-19 response – from across the 10 regions of England and Wales – and provide them with crucial positive life experiences on an adventure residential.

James Blake added: “Project90 will allow us to reach those young people and their families who are most in need, but we can only achieve our ambition if people support us.”

To give the gift of adventure, please donate today at yha.org.uk/donate