Mateo and the Oxfordshire Green Belt
Like many, the pandemic enforced a period of deep reflection and uncharacteristic stillness for me and my partner.
As the days blurred, our anxieties multiplied and we transitioned into an almost permanent state of pyjamas, and the abrupt change in pace pulled our local area into sharp focus. What we saw beyond our pokey one-bedroom flat we had long suspected, but overlooked due to affordability. The air quality was well below average. Litter was a huge problem. The local council was overwhelmed and chronically underfunded. The crime statistics? Unsettling. We loved London, but the prospect of moving to somewhere less densely populated, with cleaner air and access to the countryside took root. We now live on Osney Island, a 300 household riverside community in West Oxford. It’s only a 50-minute fast train from Paddington, sits in the heart of the green belt and is directly connected to the well-maintained Thames path. Head east on foot and you can reach the city centre within ten minutes. Head north on foot and the ancient 136.9 hectare Port Meadow stretches out before you to the horizon.
The transformation of our physical, mental and social health has been staggering. The hard edges of long work days, looming deadlines and frantic commutes are softened by our proximity to Oxfordshire’s verdant countryside. London has a distinct pulse; one that for many proves unsustainable. Here, being part of a smaller, mobilized and environmentally-conscious community allows us to, quite literally, breathe a little easier.
We recognise how fortunate we are to have been able to move. There is a desperate need for affordable housing in this country and every human deserves the right to clean air. Local councils have a responsibility to ensure that access to nature is for absolutely everyone. The triple-whammy of a pandemic, cost of living crisis and climate disaster has left the vast majority of citizens tired and overwhelmed. Over the coming years, the way we engage with nature – that most ancient of salves – will not only determine the quality of our lives but the destiny of the planet itself.