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Health and wellbeing

How Big Local areas are improving residents’ quality of life

December 2013

Residents’ wellbeing is at the heart of what Big Local areas are aiming to achieve; improving the quality of people’s lives as they make their area an even better place to live. Through Big Local plans, areas are coming up with creative solutions to local issues. These aim to create new opportunities, raise aspirations and transform people’s lives.

Big Local areas understand that for change to be real and lasting, it has to come from the residents themselves, from their relationships, the trust they build through working together, and the confidence they get from delivering their own ideas and sharing the achievements.

This case study looks at how three Big Local areas are tackling issues like mental health, community spaces and carer support.

Shadsworth with Whitebirk

Why focus on health and wellbeing?

Shadsworth with Whitebirk has chosen to focus on health and wellbeing in its Big Local plan because it feels it is an essential part of transforming the area. Residents currently face challenges such as a lack of local employment opportunities, and many experience the associated impacts unemployment has on mental health.

The Big Local partnership recognises that it might not be able to make big changes immediately, but feels that by creating lots of smaller changes over time it can build momentum to raise the confidence and aspirations of people living in the area. Making smaller changes in people’s lives can produce a ripple effect, where confidence spreads and people feel differently about their lives and the place in which they live. Brian Williamson, chair of Shadsworth with Whitebirk Big Local, says:

‘It is part of a long-term vision where people are persuaded that there are greater opportunities, that there is a bigger world out there.”

Building community spirit

Part of this journey is about helping people overcome any negative stereotypes of the area itself and recognising that issues in the area should not limit their own personal aspirations. The local press in Shadsworth with Whitebirk has been supportive by publishing positive news stories about Big Local.

Brian feels that people need reasons to be able to say ‘I like living here’ and Big Local is helping to achieve this, tackling a perception that there isn’t anything to do. Brian is hopeful that Big Local will overcome a sense that people’s day-to-day lives do not offer new possibilities.

Making an impact on mental health issues

The Big Local partnership wants to take a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. As residents improve their physical and mental health they should see a change in their lifestyle too. Brian identifies changes in mental health as an important part of this:

“If people are down it’s very difficult to get them interested in other things.”

Shadsworth with Whitebirk Big Local knows there is very little community-based activity in the area and its aim is to create an abundance of new opportunities to raise aspirations and help people feel better.

Working with Blackburn with Darwen Healthy Living

The Big Local partnership will offer new ways of overcoming challenges, building on the existing strengths of the area and working closely with residents to find workable solutions. The approach to making Shadsworth with Whitebirk an even better place to live has meant that it is critical to work with partners who embrace the Big Local ethos.

The Big Local partnership chose Blackburn with Darwen Healthy Living to be its locally trusted organisation because it has a history of working effectively in the local area and is willing to approach issues differently, embracing a thinking-outside-the-box philosophy. The aim is essentially to work with smaller groups of people. The steering group believes that if you genuinely affect 10 people in a way that helps them transform their lives, this can produce a ripple through their families and networks.

Using peer approaches to make an impact on health issues

Investing in people to become the drivers of change is an approach Shadsworth with Whitebirk has already started to adopt locally.

"We have a dietician who is training 20 local mums who can then train 20 of their friends. This will have a bigger impact and means we are investing in the local community,” says Abdul Mulla, chief executive of Blackburn with Darwen Healthy Living.

It is important to find ways to use a more peer-led approach, to shape changes that are more enduring and improve how receptive people are to valuable health messages. Importantly, this also represents an investment in the skills and knowledge of residents so that they can continue to make improvements in the health and wellbeing of their Big Local area in the future.

Giving residents a sense of control

The Big Local partnership is making an investment in residents at the forefront of everything it does. Abdul feels the best way to help residents improve their health and wellbeing is simply to give them a sense of control over what is happening in their local area. His own experience of working in these communities has led him to believe that feeling more in control can make a real and lasting difference.

“Having control, having a say, having a voice, having an influence to know you are doing something meaningful can all be a huge boost to health and wellbeing,” adds Abdul.

While Abdul feels it is too soon to talk about the impact of focusing on health and wellbeing, he is already able to recognise how Big Local has raised aspirations of people living in Shadsworth with Whitebirk. Abdul feels that the Big Local ethos of working with people, by helping them to understand how to affect change locally, will help improve their wellbeing in the future.

Southampton (SO18 Big Local)

SO18 Big Local comprises the Harefield, Midanbury and Townhill Park areas of Southampton. There are lots of indications that a combination of physical and mental health factors are having an impact on the overall quality of life for residents. SO18 Big Local has been thinking carefully about ways of addressing the specific needs of residents in the area.

Through its Big Local plan, the steering group has identified opportunities for residents to keep active through new play equipment, exercise and dance classes. It is also focusing on the improvement of public spaces. Helen Pain, chair of SO18, feels that many of the other things they are focusing on will help provide a boost to health and wellbeing in the area too.
Focusing on community spirit will improve levels of community wellbeing, helping people become active and reducing social isolation in the area.

  • Focusing on the environment through local ‘friends-of’ groups promotes physical improvements that will help people to enjoy the area more, and also provides volunteering opportunities for residents which will improve their own wellbeing. For example, ‘friends of local park’. 
  • Focusing on new opportunities for younger people both helps boost their wellbeing and represents an investment in the future of the Big Local area. 
  • Focusing on debt problems and finding solutions will have a big effect on mental health for those who are struggling to cope financially.

Supporting carers through peer support networks

In SO18 the Big Local partnership has recognised that there may be some more hidden issues that affect health and wellbeing. There is a high prevalence of long-term illness and disability amongst residents in some parts of the area, meaning there are likely to be many informal carers working to support them. SO18 has commissioned two pieces of work to explore this. Once the team has identified the carers in the area, it will create groups to provide mutual support.

Creating new networks is an approach that is central to what SO18 is aiming to achieve. It is planning to facilitate a burst of community-based activity, which has previously been difficult to set up or maintain. Part of the approach to creating a stronger foundation of community activities is to help stimulate conversations and give people the opportunity to enjoy the place they live in.

“It’s not headline material but it will really make a difference to people’s lives over 10 years,” says Helen Pain, chair of SO18 Big Local.

The importance of community spaces for health and wellbeing

Helen feels that creating a community space that is well liked and well used would make a huge difference to residents by supporting new networks and developing community spirit. SO18 is planning to work closely with the existing tenants groups and others to help these aspirations come to life. Helen hopes that over 10 or more years, these spaces will be somewhere for people to feel they belong and gain a connection with and a sense of pride in their local area. Whether these spaces are community cafés, play areas, or comfortable benches, she hopes that they will become a focal point for the local community.

Helen believes that Big Local will improve overall health and wellbeing for residents through changing what they feel is possible.

“Your gut feeling tells you that if people do feel they have a voice and do feel equipped to do something about it, it should have an effect on their health and wellbeing.”

Winterton Big Local

In Winterton Big Local, the partnership held some visioning events which identified a lack of facilities and opportunities to do exercise. This was seen as a barrier to good health and wellbeing. While there are several larger towns beyond a five-mile radius, Winterton has not received any investments locally to support the immediate area in creating activities to boost health and fitness. Big Local presents a chance to invest in these opportunities. The sub-group is investing in a number of activities:

  • Street dance – aimed specifically at younger people 
  • Nordic walking – making the most of Winterton’s rural location 
  • Sky-ride tours – making use of the skills of one of the Big Local partnership members who is a keen cyclist and wants to organise tours of the area.

Community gym

In the longer term, the partnership would like to create a community gym. However, it recognises that this will involve a number of other individuals or organisations locally who have the time, expertise and resources to fulfil an ambition of this size.

Grow-your-own healthy eating projects

Winterton is also aiming to stimulate some activities for younger people in the hope that they will develop skills and confidence for the longer term. The Clean and Green sub-group has invested in equipment and materials for three local schools to grow produce. This will provide fruit and vegetables for the village and promote healthy eating.

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