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Communities in Control: Fascinating emerging findings about the impact of Big Local – part 1

October 2017

Since 2014 the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) have conducted independent research in Big Local areas for their Communities in Control (CiC) study. They are currently reporting on their latest wave of research. There are some really interesting findings, with important implications for Big Local. In my first blog on the research I focus on the impact on health and wellbeing from participating in Big Local.

By Andy Curtis, senior researcher, Local Trust.

Impact on health and wellbeing from participating in Big Local

The second phase of the CiC research finds some early indications that residents ‘sense of control, health and wellbeing’ can benefit from participation in Big Local. For example, in interviews with residents about their experiences of participation, the following factors were seen as being important for Big Local in improving wellbeing:

  • A range of opportunities to participate and make connections
  • An increased sense of people’s identity and self-worth
  • More personal power to manage their own health/wellbeing
  • A feeling of having something to look forward to
In the short-term benefits appear to be more pronounced for wellbeing than physical or general health. It will be interesting to see whether there are greater health benefits in the long term.

But beware stress from too much involvement

It is not all good news. Some partnership members face pressure and stress. These were often linked to the set-up of the programme and were not constant. Even so, the negative influences on wellbeing included:

  • Time and commitment of being involved
  • Responsibility to deliver outcomes for the local community
  • Conflict and tension between residents, as well as with other organisations

Like many volunteering roles, being a partnership member can be time consuming and stressful. Having particular responsibilities (e.g. chairing partnerships) can create additional pressures for individuals. Juggling volunteering alongside work and family commitments can also become difficult for some. Many areas have now employed paid workers, usually from the community, to pick up tasks previously undertaken by a partnership member(s) on a voluntary basis.

Conclusion: Finding the right balance

The research findings so far are both reassuring and challenging. On a positive note, it confirms the underlying belief of Big Local that devolving decision making to communities is inherently good – it can benefit those directly involved and the wider community.

Whilst it is still early days, the extent of these changes and how wide spread they are in Big Local areas is a question for the next phase of the research. It seems that participating in Big Local can be a positive experience, but also that such resident led initiatives can lead to tensions with other local people, especially in the partnership role. A challenge remains in trying to have as many people as possible sharing the load on partnerships and to mediate any potential conflicts.

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