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Dec 16, 2021 | by Joanne Smithson

Supporting Local Authorities to maximise wellbeing: programme update

Over the last 10 months our dedicated local authority lead, Joanne Smithson, has been working closely with a group of local authorities to understand what works to maximise wellbeing in their areas. Through the programme, we work with them to find the most effective ways that they can construct policies that maximise wellbeing across different focus areas and local needs. 

As the programme for this cohort comes to an end, we will be featuring some of the stories from the local authorities taking part, and the difference our work has made to maximising wellbeing in their areas.

Reflections from Kirklees Council

Kate McNicholas – former Head of policy, partnerships and corporate planning, Kirklees Council 

The past eighteen months have changed so many people’s lives in Kirklees. As our borough recovers from the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that we leave no one behind.  

Our entry into the What Works Centre for Wellbeing cohort was guided by this focus on inclusion.  And by a question: what happens if we look at inclusion through a wellbeing lens?  

We looked at the stark differences between experiences of wellbeing within and between communities, and getting acquainted with what the data tells us about wellbeing inequalities –. We winced at our collective lack of surprise that there is a strong correlation at a national level between wellbeing inequalities and health, housing and education.  

The pandemic has changed the scale and the urgency of the challenges we face to improve opportunities for everyone in Kirklees. We know that we need to understand those changes better at a local level if we are to support a recovery that improves both inclusion and wellbeing.

Our Currently Living in Kirklees (CLiK) survey went out to residents this Autumn. Our involvement in this programme has helped us think through the questions that we ask of residents in a way that is designed to support action.  Some of the questions we are including were: 

  • How often do you feel lonely? 
  • To what extent do you agree or disagree that you personally can influence decisions affecting your local area?
  • To what extent do you agree or disagree that your local area is a place where people trust each other?
  • How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
  • To what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
  • How happy did you feel yesterday?
  • How anxious did you feel yesterday?

And in asking about feelings, thoughts and general wellbeing, the extent to which people’s experience over the last two weeks reflect the following statements:

  • I’ve been feeling optimistic about the future
  • I’ve been feeling useful
  • I’ve been feeling relaxed
  • I’ve been dealing with problems well
  • I’ve been thinking clearly
  • I’ve been feeling close to other people
  • I’ve been able to make up my own mind about things 

Considering wellbeing and inclusion

There is something slightly less tangible behind our original question: what happens if we look at inclusion through a wellbeing lens?  Something that speaks to our focus on people centred ways of working. Our recognition of intersectionality and the need to do things differently in different communities.  

Our commitment to tackling inequalities and increasing inclusion in Kirklees has certainly encompassed actions that address many of the factors of wellbeing:

  • Relationships: The Iroko Project is a community initiative that has engaged with the Black African and Caribbean community to understand experiences around inequalities and to co-produce community led solutions for people living in Kirklees.
  • Education and childhood: The Breaking Barriers project focused on delivering meaningful engagement and positive youth-led activities, to tackle the effect of systemic inequalities for Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, particularly young people. It worked with an initial group of young Black and BAME adults aged from 16 to 30 to design a leadership programme and deliver a campaign to involve Black young people in social action and opportunities to explore issues of heritage and identity. 
  • Health: Health inequalities, especially around life expectancy, oral health and long-term conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and kidney disease have a significant impact on communities in Kirklees. The Council is working with NHS partners to reframe health-checks so that they more directly address inequalities in the prevention and identification of long-term conditions.

A major learning

One of the standout moments in our cohort conversations was understanding that parental mental health drives adult life satisfaction, and emotional health at 16 is the biggest driver of how well people do as adults.  

These are incredibly important in terms of driving our approaches, recognising the importance of a lifecourse approach, and emphasising the importance of tackling early years and educational inequalities. This is a clear part of our Kirklees Futures strategy and delivery.  

The path ahead

We have so much more to do in Kirklees if we are to achieve our ambition of being a borough in which no one is left behind.  Our inclusive economy strategy, our joint health and wellbeing strategy, and the inclusive communities framework, will be vital to that work.

And our involvement in the What Works Centre for Wellbeing cohort will help us keep people, and wellbeing, at the centre of our recovery.

Reflections from Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council

Shirley Goodhew, Public Health Consultant 

We applied to be part of this cohort as we were looking to develop a Mental Wellbeing and Inequalities Strategy for Blackburn with Darwen. 

At the time of applying in February 2021, the town had suffered the second highest proportion of Covid cases in the UK. Since March 2020 we hadn’t yet been out of local or national restrictions, so the impact on the mental wellbeing of residents and the workforce was well recognised, and there was a strong commitment and support from senior leaders to do more. 

Even before Covid, Blackburn with Darwen (a unitary authority) had its challenges with a diverse population with a high proportion of BAME communities, and high levels of deprivation. 

Creating a mental health and inequalities framework

Being part of this programme has made us carve out chunks of time to look at this agenda, after a very busy couple of years, where operational responsibilities have had to take priority. This was harder than you might think. It also made us realistic in terms of what we could achieve from a 6-month programme. We quickly realised that a whole strategy was not achievable, so we opted for a mental wellbeing and inequalities framework that we could use as a stepping stone to developing a strategy. 

The supportive steer from The What Works Centre for Wellbeing has provided us with summaries of the evidence around wellbeing, which has brought context and understanding and made this task more manageable. For example, in the development of the framework, we have used the six hallmarks of effective policy making, to maximise its effectiveness. 

Our framework will address mental wellbeing and inequalities by providing a guide for policy makers in the borough to ensure equity of services and resources reach an equal ‘high standard’ outcome for all residents. It will clearly define what mental wellbeing means in the context of Blackburn with Darwen and outline where it sits in the mental health continuum. 

The framework will establish wellbeing as a goal of policy. 

  • We have defined our aspirations for improvements in each of the domains of wellbeing and will be asking our policy makers to consider how their policy positively contributes to those aspirations. 
  • We will be measuring wellbeing by looking at the characteristics of people with the lowest levels of wellbeing and people with protective characteristics and we will be presenting the data picture of those people within the framework.
  • We will outline the prevalence of these characteristics and the possibility of these factors compounding and ask policy makers how their policy affects people with the lowest levels of wellbeing. 

Supporting the framework

In the development of the framework, we have pulled together a steering group to act as a sounding board and critical friend. Working with this group we will be looking at a plan to implement the framework across the whole Authority in a way that maximises wellbeing in line with the hallmarks of great wellbeing policy making. We are also designing a development session for our Health and Wellbeing Board to provide the local context, in order to ensure their commitment and a smooth implementation.

Being part of this cohort has also helped us to put  a ‘wellbeing lens’ up against other projects so that wellbeing is now firmly a goal within all of our work.

The Centre’s work with Local Government and the Health Sector is supported by the Health Foundation, an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK.

Are you a wellbeing lead for a Local Authority?

Register your interest for future programmes

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Are you a wellbeing lead for a Local Authority?

Register your interest for future programmes

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