The role of community approaches to Wellbeing is explored in our guest blog this week by PHE’s Gregor Henderson.
Yesterday we were at PHE’s Public Mental Health Summit #PMH15. We heard from and met some inspirational people working in the field of mental health and got great perspectives on how the What Works Centre for Wellbeing needs to be established. There was a lot of discussion around mental wellbeing and wellness alongside the crucial role of communities and the impact of inequalities. (It would be great to see some work on wellbeing inequalities.) We also heard that there are huge opportunities to draw on much more of the evidence base and give a relatively pioneering area some firm foundations as we improve the quality of the evidence base.
Here’s our presentation
Translation of evidence to make it useful, easy to use and accessible is a key function of a What Works Centre . This means we need to put the needs and interests of users and stakeholders at the heart of what we do so that the evidence is relevant to the challenges they face. This is also how we get impact from research and share the grey literature, tacit knowledge and experience. Events like yesterday are great for this.
Community approaches for wellbeing
Gregor Henderson, National Lead, Wellbeing and Mental Health, Public Health England
It’s time to think about community wellbeing. Why? Supportive relationships, strong networks and our ability to engage with others, combined with having some influence on decisions that affect us, are all critical for our wellbeing. Although we know these social factors are important, we often focus on improving the wellbeing of individuals and not on how we build healthy communities. That’s a shame as communities are more than a population of individuals – a healthy community should be a place or set of connections that allow us all to belong, to make a contribution and to flourish.
So what do we need to do to develop confident and connected communities? Public Health England and NHS England have just published a guide to community-centred approaches to health and wellbeing. This identifies a whole suite of interventions, supported by evidence, that can be used to promote wellbeing through communities. Community-centred approaches work by mobilising community assets like skills, local knowledge and social networks, by encouraging active participation and by removing barriers to good health.
What does this look like on the ground? Last year I visited the Hamara centre in Leeds. Hamara means ‘ours’ in Urdu and the organisation offers a range of wellbeing services alongside outreach activities. Hamara was one of the first wave of healthy living centres with a strong emphasis on meeting the needs of the minority ethnic communities in Leeds, where significant inequalities exist. Visiting the centre, you get a sense of an inclusive approach to wellbeing that is rooted in the community.
Like many grassroots community organisations, Hamara offers a rich mix of activities addressing needs across the life course. One example is the supplementary school project to support primary age children to achieve their potential. There are many other examples of activities that don’t have a ‘Health’ label, nonetheless they address the wider determinants and enable people to gain a sense of control and belonging.
The learning from community organisations like Hamara is significant. We need to be able to capture what they achieve and understand how they build community assets, while remaining responsive and flexible in often challenging times. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing is already providing a platform to disseminate information on Pioneer projects. This knowledge from real life projects complements the overview of community-centred approaches in the PHE guide. Ultimately this is about growing our understanding of what is needed in communities to create the right conditions for people to reach their potential.