What Works Wellbeing operated from 2014 to 2024. This website is a static repository of all assets captured at closure on 30 April. It will remain publicly accessible but will not be updated.  Read more

Places and community

About Places and community

The places where we live, work and spend time clearly have an impact on our wellbeing. So do the people we know – and encounter – in these places. For example, we know that there are spillover community effects of crime – and knock-on effects of social fragmentation, and deprivation – on our individual wellbeing regardless of whether these things affect us directly.

But what works when it comes to effective policy and practice to improve both individual and community wellbeing? And how do we measure things like community wellbeing: why can’t we just add up all the reported individual wellbeing scores in an area?

Our evidence, analysis and guidance looks at how community wellbeing can be understood and improved. Our research looks at:

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We don’t want to reinvent the wheel with our work on this issue: although there are evidence gaps, there is already lots of research on the impact of place-based activities and the role of place and community on wellbeing.

People, power and place

Defining community wellbeing is a complex task – made more complicated by the many definitions, measures and frameworks currently in use.

Broadly, community wellbeing can be defined as ‘being well together.’ Rather than thinking of it as an aggregate of individual wellbeing, which has more broad consensus on measurement.

Community wellbeing is about the strength of networks and support between people in a community. It is also impacted by both the physical conditions of the community, as well as the opportunity to participate and have a say in the local area.

To understand community wellbeing, we need to look at people, power and place

  1. How we relate to, and are interrelated with, other people in our community. Are there high levels of loneliness, or lack of social cohesion? 
  2. Do they feel they have the power to participate in local decision-making? 
  3. Does the place they live in have spaces, events or neighbourhoods to mix with other members of their community? 

It is an inherently ‘messy’ concept: with many interrelated factors and pathways, which differ for each community. The theory of change below seeks to distill some of this messiness, and also show how policy interventions can improve community wellbeing. Through the lens of community wellbeing, it identifies some of the mechanisms for place-based change, including widening participation, strengthening social networks, and improving living conditions.


Community wellbeing theory of change diagram - A loop showing: 1. community conditions (People, Power, Place); 2. Interventions (policy and on the ground interventions); 3. mechanisms of change (widening participation and governance/enhancing social networks/improving living conditions); 4. intermediate outcomes (Improved community conditions and individual benefits); 5. long-term outcomes (improved community and individual wellbeing); and shown as a spin-off out of the loop at point 5: 6. Net savings

External resource

  • JUMP projects Happy Days volunteer report
  • Co-op Community Wellbeing Index
  • Thriving Places Index