Please note that What Works Wellbeing will close operations on 30 April 2024.  Read more
May 23, 2018 | by Ingrid Abreu Scherer

Places, spaces, social connection and people’s wellbeing: what works?

What makes the places we live, work and meet up in better places for our wellbeing?

  • Our social relationships are consistently found to be an important part of our overall wellbeing.
  • Understanding what communities and organisations can do to best support social relationships is less obvious.  
  • Here we bring together the global evidence base, sharing what’s currently known about various approaches, so that organisations and communities can do more of what looks like it helps and work together to understand how best we can make more of a difference to wellbeing and social connection in the UK.  

Back in 2017 we published a scoping review to find the evidence gaps in our understanding of improving social relations – a loose term that covers a wide variety of interactions, interconnections, and exchanges between human beings and the physical and social environment.  

The evidence review published today looks at public places and ‘bumping’ places designed for people to meet. Places like

  • squares, parks, play areas, village halls and community centres, even the streets themselves.

It also covers

  • places where people meet informally or are used as meeting places, such as cafes, pubs, libraries, schools and churches or events, as well as
  • services that can facilitate access to places to meet, including urban design, landscape architecture and public art, transport, public health organisations, subsidised housing sites, and bus routes.

Key findings

  • Community hubs can promote social cohesion, by bringing together different social or generational groups; increase social capital and build trust; increase wider social networks and interaction between community members; and increase individual’s knowledge or skills.
  • Changes to neighbourhood design can positively affect sense of belonging and pride in a community.
  • Green and blue space interventions that provide the opportunity to participate in activities or meetings can improve social interactions; increase social networks social interactions and bonding and bridging social capital; increase physical activity and healthy eating; improve community members’ skills and knowledge.
  • Interventions that  provide a focal point, or targeted group activity, may help to: promote social cohesion between different groups; and overcome barriers that may prevent some people (in marginalised groups) from taking part.

Putting it into practice

In the visual summary below, each box contains approximate costs, potential community benefits, length of impact, and scale of impact (written above box).

This information was gathered from  a subset of the studies reviewed in the evidence review and is intended to give a general outline rather than an exhaustive review of the practicalities. It comes with a health warning: there was very little evidence beyond short-term impacts in the studies used. They are also based on assumptions about the length of time that infrastructure was in place, and from evidence elsewhere on the type of activity where effects may be longer term and where there may be adaptation. 




Practice Examples
Jul 18, 2016
Community Activators championing wellbeing
Apr 17, 2019 | By Centre
Bringing Cities to Life: The complex relationship between green space and mental wellbeing
Centre Blog
May 26, 2022 | By Stewart Martin
Call for evidence: Places, spaces and social connections (closed)
Centre Blog

Sign up to our weekly e-mail list

Sign up to receive resources, insights and evidence as they are published.