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Communities can help health agencies deliver on health and wellbeing – and they already are in Big Local areas

08:00 Monday 19 December 2016

Research published today [1] shows that health agencies across England have much to gain from engaging residents in Big Local areas – where 150 communities are each delivering £1m-plans to meet local needs, including health and wellbeing, as part of the Big Local programme. [2]

The study, People, places and health agencies: Lessons from Big Local residents, was commissioned by Local Trust [3] and conducted by IVAR, the Institute for Voluntary Action Research [4], to explore how seven Big Local communities are working with health agencies. [5]

The research found that:

  • Working with Big Local areas can help health agencies to improve health and wellbeing locally, and meet responsibilities to the wider population.
  • Health agencies gain from working in Big Local areas because of the structure and support provided by Local Trust, and the tangible offer residents bring to the table in terms of resources and time.
  • With 150 Big Local areas around England, health agencies should proactively seek collaboration with residents in these places as part of their strategic engagement with communities. Doing so will have impact beyond the immediate boundaries of Big Local areas.
  • The approach of health agencies makes all the difference: Health agencies need to empower their staff to become ‘door openers’ and build relationships with local residents.

Jayne Humm, head of research and learning at Local Trust, commented: “Across Big Local, communities are using their £1m spend to address a wide range of local needs, and health is a priority for many. This research tells us that residents in Big Local areas make able and energetic partners for health agencies, and can help to deliver better and more tailored services. That is a real opportunity for any health agency that is looking to work collaboratively with local people.”

Karl Rooney, programme manager at Beechwood, Ballantyne & Bidston Village Big Local, commented: “Sharing health and wellbeing data with residents showed that a bespoke project, designed around the needs and strengths of this area, could enable people to become more active. By working in partnership with Wirral Community NHS Trust & Wirral Council we cut through bureaucracy and built a highly popular package to help people kick start a healthier lifestyle – regardless of their financial background.”

IVAR’s research found that residents in Big Local areas helped health agencies deliver common goals by:

  • Providing a fuller picture of local health and wellbeing by gathering local insights into experiences and perceptions of health services. For example, the PEACH Big Local group in east London conducted a story gathering exercise, asking residents to describe how they had personally been affected by poor access to health services. The stories highlight the human impact of decisions and were gathered into a report and leaflet.
  • Bringing people together to collectively discuss health issues in the community and come up with jointly produced solutions involving residents, health agencies and local decision makers. Residents from Hilltop and Caldwell Big Local in Warwickshire have worked with the local Healthy Living Network to set up a range of health initiatives within the local community centre including a breakfast club, Zumba classes and a Super Kitchen, which uses waste food to cook healthy meals at the same time as teaching participants how to cook.
  • Testing new ideas and activities: Residents in Big Local areas are able to take certain risks that health agencies may not be so free to take. In Wirral, residents from Beechwood, Ballantyne and Bidstone Big Local negotiated discounts on council leisure passes, which they then offered free to residents who attended an NHS LiveWell health check and agreed a health action plan. The LiveWell team had greater uptake of their service in an area where they previously found it difficult to reach people.
  • Increasing health promotion by ensuring health messages and activities are delivered in a language and an approach that are locally appropriate. In East Cleveland, the Big Local partnership put on a panto, Snow White and the Seven Doofers (they ‘do for others’) which they took to eight of the 11 villages. The panto helped to spread the message about joining in with Big Local in the East Cleveland community, and weaved in messages about health and wellbeing.

Leila Baker, head of research at IVAR commented: “Health agencies want to reach out to residents beyond existing formal mechanisms and are looking for ways to do this.  In these Big Local areas we have seen a huge range of joint initiatives. They have often started with small steps, or lucky encounters, and have taken time to evolve, but the relationships that follow can pave the way to bigger changes.

Download the full report at


Further information Jessica Wenban-Smith 020 3588 0577 mobile: 07751 836346

Twitter: @localtrust @jessws


[1] People, places and health agencies: Lessons from Big Local residents is a report drawing on action research conducted by IVAR and written by Leila Baker, Helen Garforth, Marilyn Taylor and Katie Turner. It is based on research carried out by the authors together with

Charlotte Hennessy. It can be downloaded at

[2] Big Local is an exciting opportunity for residents in 150 areas around England to use at least £1m each over 10-15 years to make a massive and lasting positive difference to their communities. Big Local brings together all the local talent, ambitions, skills and energy from individuals, groups and organisations who want to make their area an even better place to live.

Big Local is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and managed by Local Trust. Nationally we work with a range of partners to deliver Big Local, building on the skills and experiences of others to provide expert advice and support for residents.

[3] Local Trust’s mission is to enable residents to make their communities and their areas even better places in which to live. We do this by helping them develop and use their skills and confidence to identify what matters most to them, and to take action to change things for the better, now and in the future. We provide a mix of funding and finance to support people to make sustainable change, maximise impact and make the best use of scarce resources.

[4] IVAR is an independent research charity that works closely with people and organisations striving for social change. From the very small that directly support the most vulnerable in their local communities, to those that work nationally – across the voluntary, public and funding sectors.

[5] The seven Big Local areas taking part in the research were:

Beechwood, Ballantyne and Bidston Village, Wirral.

East Cleveland, Yorkshire.

East Coseley, Dudley.

Ewanrigg, Cumbria.

Hilltop and Caldwell, Nuneaton.

PEACH, Custom House, London Borough of Newham.

Wargrave, Newton-le-Willows, St Helens.