Vision for an active CranbrookSave this item
The historic market town Cranbrook sits at the extreme east of Tunbridge Wells borough in an area of outstanding natural beauty known as the Weald of Kent. With a population of just under 7,000 and average house prices that are the fifth highest in Kent, it would be easy to believe that the residents of Cranbrook are all healthy, wealthy, and happy.
The truth however, is that the town does have its socio-economic problems and for the residents living on low incomes and in social housing, this is aggravated by mediocre transport links, high costs of venue hire making exercise classes expensive, and the perception that certain clubs and facilities are “not for them”. This in turn can have a negative impact on people’s health (physical and mental), and sense of wellbeing.
Look for the opportunities
Despite this, I am very optimistic that, as an Everyday Active Champion, I can find opportunities to support people in my community to live a more active, healthy lifestyle. In partnership with the local charity Wellbeing in the Weald and the One You team at Tunbridge Wells, I have been engaging with sports clubs and activity providers to learn about what is currently available and the potential to set up new activities.
Obviously, there are lots of services that you can pay for, but Wellbeing in the Weald have made a commitment to supporting volunteers to set up free groups and activities that promote social inclusion. It is through them that I first became a Walking for Health volunteer and now our health walks in Cranbrook are thriving, I have helped to set up similar walks across the borough and train volunteers to lead them.
Wellbeing in the Weald also host a weekly session on their community plot at the allotment which has been a very sociable way to get some gardening exercise, plus they get to share the produce among themselves and the wider community.
Some of the ideas we are working towards are: walking football, boxing for teens, a free yoga session for disadvantaged adults, postural stability classes for older adults, buggy walking for new parents, and Nordic walking.
Neighbourhood Development Plan
Cranbrook and Sissinghurst parish is set for a large expansion in housing over the next few years but fortunately, there are a dedicated group of local people who have created a Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) which considers how the development can enhance the community for new and existing residents. The draft NDP covers topics such as design and heritage, landscape and the natural environment, access and movement, business and employment, housing, culture and community, and infrastructure.
A large part of this plan includes the construction of a new community centre and a combined medical centre, together on a site in the centre of town. This will provide opportunities for new exercise classes but also brings our health professionals right into the heart of our community. I believe that a strong partnership between our medics and community groups can be key to long term behaviour change.
The NDP is also in favour of preserving our public outdoor spaces in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and are keen to make it even more accessible. One such scheme is the creation of a pedestrian and cycle path linking Sissinghurst right through to Bedgebury Forest. This would make access to this Forestry Commission site via active travel much safer for everyone and offset the need to pollute the countryside with petrol fumes.
Cranbrook outdoor gym
Another potential project is to build a new outdoor gym facility that would be free to use by everyone in our community. For many people, it isn’t just the expense of going to a gym that puts them off, but the thought of stepping into the unknown is a real barrier; a fear of judgement perhaps? Bringing the gym out into the open air, in a public space, can easily break down that barrier and seeing other people using the equipment can normalise physical activity in our minds.
One possibility would be for the gym to be built around the new community hub but, wherever it is sited, I know it will be well supported by community groups and fitness trainers alike, and services such as One You would be able to refer clients to trainer led activity sessions there.
My vision for Cranbrook
Tunbridge Wells borough has the most physically active adults in Kent (with only an estimated 14.6% inactive in 2019/20) but that rate still points to around 800 adults in Cranbrook that need to do more in order to capitalise on all of the health benefits exercise can provide. Sadly, the children of Tunbridge Wells actually have the highest levels of inactivity in Kent (41.3% inactive in 2019/20), so there is work to be done encouraging our young people to move more.
My vision for Cranbrook is one where the whole community feel connected to each other and the environment we live in, and where residents have the confidence to make the most of the opportunities for physical activity on offer. A happier, healthier lifestyle is attainable with the right infrastructure in place and with positive people willing to help run social and active groups.
So, I hope you will join with me to help make Cranbrook the most vibrant, physically active and healthy community in Kent!
Mark Lawrence is the Everyday Active Champion for Tunbridge Wells and The Weald. If you’re interested in discussing any of the content in this blog, would like to promote your activities in the area, or you’re personally looking for ways to become more active, you can get in touch with Mark by emailing Mark.Lawrence@TunbridgeWells.gov.uk, or by visiting the local Everyday Active page for Tunbridge Wells below.
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