It is well known that being outside in nature is good for us, and there is now growing evidence that time spent by waterways, can help to improve our mental health and wellbeing. Having access to green and blue spaces not only encourages physical activities, providing well maintained paths for running and cycling, but also offers an escape for some peace and quiet. The Covid-19 crisis shows that even higher value will be placed on these spaces in the future.

Waterway organisations need to capitalise on this wider usage and show how important it is to have more investment in waterways, by demonstrating the economic, social, and environmental value waterways provide to people and communities. Proving (rather than just telling) potential partners, funders and supporters about the value they bring is crucial and a task the Trust is tackling right now.

The information below sets out some findings from previous and current EU funded projects NIWE members have participated in or are keeping a keen eye on. We also provide some key documents from other sources that support the importance of this theme and waterway sector.

From Isolation to Inclusion (I2I)

An Interreg North Sea Region (NSR) project which runs from January 2020 to December 2022

Canal & River Trust are working in partnership with Universitetet i Agder and Arendal commune (NO), Abertay University and the Campaign to End Loneliness (UK), Region Värmland (SE), Diakonisches Werk Bremen (DE), OCMW Turnhout, Stad Turnhout and Stad Aalst (BE), Gemeente Assen (NL), and Aarhus Kommune (DK).

I2I tackles the problem of social isolation and/or loneliness that many people are experiencing. The public sector is struggling to address this multifaceted problem – and finding a solution requires action from multiple agencies for its successful alleviation. It brings organisations together to co-create and trial some innovative solutions with the target groups and stakeholders, creating more effective services for citizens while raising awareness of the issue in the NSR and increasing the innovation capacity of the public sector in regions around the North Sea to deal with social isolation.

First tasks at a project level were to set the baseline ready for measuring and evaluating results and the impact of activities, interventions and services developed and implemented. Partners jointly test existing measurement methodologies and development of a project version to be applied in I2I.

Canal & River Trust will target those at risk of experiencing loneliness & social isolation and get them “engaged with their neighbourhoods, more active and feeling healthier”. It works with expert partners and contacts from across the health & wellbeing sectors to bring together younger and older members of a community through a programme of innovative, inter-generational canal-based activities. These will be carried out in two priority areas (initially in Leeds and Nottingham).

Staff research existing services that public service delivery professionals and social health ‘prescribers’ currently offer – and then work with them to ensure that the Trust’s interventions developed in I2I have a good chance of uptake and are suitable for a much wider roll-out. These experts advise how the proposed new ‘offers’ can complement and add value to existing health services provision and can provide greater support for waterside communities.

Community and stakeholder consultation continue throughout the project timeline, initially to raise awareness and then to get this input about which interventions will work best.

The I2I project is of great value to Canal & River Trust as it funds research into a serious social problem aligned with the Trust’s wellbeing agenda and regional engagement programmes. Interventions take place in areas and at communities identified as needing support and where the impacts from waterside activities the Trust can facilitate can be maximised. A final key benefit is how it allows engagement with stakeholders and communities to ‘co-create’ solutions. These build in well to the Trusts regional community engagement programmes

Key outputs and project related evidence:


WATERWAYS & WELLBEING Presentation by NIWE Chair Oct 2018

Simetrica-report Assessing the wellbeing impacts of Impact of Regen&Climate Adaptations on mortality (June 2020)

I2I WP3 Evaluation Report 2023 CRT QH Public Sector Policy Analysis – Impact doc (Dec 2022)

I2I WP3 Evaluation Report Final 23

I2I infographic summary

I2I Final summary presentation (May 2023)

CRT Final I2I conference slides

CRT outcomes Report – Waterways and Wellbeing (FULL)

CRT outcomes Report – Waterways and Wellbeing (SUMMARY)



A pan-European research initiative, funded by the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme that began in January 2016 and finished in December 2020.

Project partners investigated the links between urban blue spaces, climate and health. It combined interdisciplinary approaches to examine how wellbeing might be promoted through the development of blue infrastructure. Funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme until December 2020, their work will continue to inform the design, planning and management of accessible and quality blue spaces.

Most of Europe’s population live in urban areas characterised by inland waterways and coastal margins.

BlueHealth’s interdisciplinary research combined large-scale survey data with localised interventions to understand the effects these environments might have on health and increased understanding of how urban blue spaces can have a positive effect on people’s wellbeing.

Partners worked with communities, private sector organisations and policymakers to ensure findings are focused and relevant. The project’s recommendations will help decision makers and communities promote health through access to good quality blue spaces, informing the development of towns and cities fit for the future.

They designed and implemented interventions at several sites in Spain, Italy, Estonia, Portugal, and the UK and created a series of tools to assess these initiatives and developed protocols for others to do the same.

BlueHealth brought together researchers from across Europe to systematically explore the impacts that urban waterways can have on health, carrying out over 20 studies in more than 18 different countries across the world.

Research areas included; Creating access to blue spaces, Landscape & urban planning, Future scenarios, Innovation & engagement (engaging the public & private sector)

In the biggest study of its kind ever conducted, BlueHealth surveyed over 18,000 people across Europe to uncover population-level relationships between blue spaces and health hooking up with different databases to create new sources of information and analysis.

Another excellent output was The BlueHealth Toolbox which consists of six online tools. Each provides information linked to a site’s characteristics and works at a particular spatial scale – from site to country-level. The tools can be used at any point when a blue space is being modified, but are most effective when used pre, during and post-intervention.

Key outputs and project related evidence:

Green prescriptions and mental health – BlueHealth
Has lockdown reawakened our love of nature – BlueHealth
Ten steps to create ‘blue health’ scenarios – BlueHealth
BlueHealth Scenarios – BlueHealth


Green & Blue Futures

An Interreg IVB North West Europe programme that ran from 2012 to 2015

The Green and Blue Futures project involved 7 partners from 4 countries around North West Europe – UK, Ireland, France and Belgium and sought ways that involvement of the social economy in resource management by not-for-profit organisations could help manage the local authorities or other public agencies assets – which post the 2008 crash saw increasing pressure on public sector funds.

There were 2 main themes;

  • Theme 1:
    Development of the social economy to manage green & blue infrastructure. Addressing topics such as promoting social entrepreneurship and developing financially sustainable business models that are cost-effective and deliver wider benefits to society; stakeholder engagement, bringing together the public, social & private sectors to support delivery; developing appropriate approaches to deal with issues such as public procurement and the relationship between stakeholders through contracts/agreements; developing a methodology for assessing and evaluating projects, in terms of both cost-effectiveness and social outcomes delivered.
  • Theme 2:
    The delivery of social outcomes to help deliver strong and prosperous communities. This theme looked at the nature and needs of the various groups of beneficiaries that could be coordinated through the social economy structures. These include disadvantaged groups such as the long-term unemployed, unemployed young people, ex-offenders, young people with special needs and older citizens. The project looked at the training & skills needs of these groups and how they might be delivered. It developed appropriate structures/arrangements for managing beneficiaries and investigated how community/special interest groups could become involved through volunteering (which is quite well developed in the UK/Ireland, but less so in other partner countries)

Green and Blue Futures activities included;

  • Identification of existing good practice approaches, together with the common elaboration of the pilot actions which will be used to develop the social economy framework
  • Delivery of 7 commonly-designed pilot actions in the partner areas to explore aspects of social economy management & development and the delivery of social outcomes;
  • Review & evaluation of the pilot actions;
  • Elaboration of the framework for the development of the social economy for the managing green & blue infrastructure;
  • A review and promotion of the implications of the framework for EU policy & funding

The key joint outputs from the project was a Green & Blue Futures Evaluation Report and accompanying Innovative practices reportPolicy Recommendations and a report setting out some ideas about how to increase Transnational mobility between actors

Key outputs and project related evidence:

Green & Blue Futures (2012-15) Full Report
Green & Blue Futures (2012-15) Innovative practices
Green & Blue Futures (2012-15) Policy Recommendations
Green & Blue Futures (2012-15) Transnational mobility



In 2018 Canal & River Trust repositioned itself as a waterways and wellbeing charity. Supporters were no longer just those who worked or lived on waterways but those accessing them for exercise, socialising, and relaxation. Waterrecreatie Nederland is another NIWE member increasing their focus on the wellbeing benefits of being active, on or around waterways.

Canal & River Trust 1st Outcomes Report – Waterways and Wellbeing (SUMMARY)
Impact of Regen&Climate Adaptations on mortality (June 2020)
WATERWAYS & WELLBEING Presentation by NIWE Chair Oct 2018
Canal & River Trust 1st Outcomes Report – Waterways and Wellbeing (FULL)