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Savings to the NHS and social care budgets

Explore the benefits highlighted in our Waterways for Today report

Waterway projects can enable savings to the NHS and social care budgets

They are well placed to improve the health, wellbeing and longevity of the many people living near them.

How Waterways Can Help

Waterways can improve the health and wellbeing of people living near or on them, and are well placed to deliver social prescribing.

The Lowland Canals of Scotland were restored with Millennium funding and reopened in 2001. Studies carried out since then into the impact of the waterways on people in areas of high socioeconomic deprivation found living beside a restored waterway cuts the risk of chronic disease and improves longevity.

Health practitioners are increasingly prescribing non-clinical services to address social, emotional or practical needs, such as mental health. Waterway-based activities including canoeing and paddleboarding, as well as towpath walking, jogging and even volunteering, are now available on prescription in many places.

Meanwhile, social workers and other professionals supporting troubled young people find that walking along a canal or river often encourages them to open up in ways they would never do in face-to-face formal meetings.

Investment in access to towpaths and waterway-based activities will bring these opportunities to many more people.


As a foster carer, living on the waterways provided a tranquil and calm place to work with really challenging youngsters who social workers found hard to place. They experienced an alternative environment from the urban areas they came from during their weekends on the boat.

David Akinsanya, former BBC journalist and public speaker

Case Study:
Volunteering on Prescription

A partnership between the Canal & River Trust and a local health centre in Rochdale has led to prescriptions for volunteering as part of a holistic approach to better health and wellbeing.

The Lock 50 Gardening Group, part of the Canal & River Trust’s Green Recovery Project, works in partnership with the Wellfield Health Centre. It provides a blue-green space for the local community to engage with practical outdoor tasks on their doorstep through a social and nature-based solution. The health centre’s canalside location provides facilities such as toilets and storage for tools.


It’s just great being out and about in nature. It certainly clears your head.


This partnership has improved the health and wellbeing of dozens of participants, as well as seeing the transformation of green spaces for wildlife and people. Several volunteers have gone on to employment and further volunteering opportunities, demonstrating the impact that blue-green spaces can have on wellbeing, physical and mental health, and wider community engagement.


If I wasn’t involved with this project, I would just be sat at home staring at four walls, which is not good for me.


Facts & Stats

A study led by Glasgow Caledonian University between 2001 and 2018 found that people living in deprived areas within 700 metres of the newly regenerated Forth & Clyde Canal had a 15% lower risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease, stroke or hypertension. The same study found that it also lowered their risk of diabetes by 12%, and obesity by 10%.

Towpaths are accessible, free of charge, and inclusive. For every £1 invested in the canal towpath network there is a return of £7 in health benefits.

‘Beat the Street’, a game that aims to get communities active and make physical activity accessible to everyone, was rolled out on canal towpaths in Sheffield, Burnley and Leicester over six weeks in the summer of 2021, with 11% of the local population taking part. The Canal & River Trust reported that 63% of participants were 18 or under and 37% were from ethnically diverse communities. There are plans to introduce the game at other canalside locations.