Places, Spaces and Social relations – What Works for Community Wellbeing?

CHPR Blog June 2018 – Anne-Marie Bagnall


Last month we launched our systematic review of what changes to community infrastructure (places and spaces) can boost social relations.  This was part of a 3-year Community Wellbeing Evidence Programme that we’ve been working on with the What Works Centre for Wellbeing.

It’s been a very productive 3 years, as there’s quite a lot known about individual wellbeing, but not so much about community wellbeing. It’s more complex than just combining people’s individual wellbeing scores, for example!

One of the first things we produced was a working Theory of Change, led by CHPR’s Professor Jane South, to crystallise our thoughts on the links between individual wellbeing, community wellbeing and wider community conditions.

Community Wellbeing

Next we produced a systematic scoping review of indicators of community wellbeing that are currently in use in the UK.

Then a conceptual review of community wellbeing, led by Professor Sarah Atkinson from the University of Durham.

Then we did a systematic scoping review of existing reviews on what works to boost social relations. This made a number of recommendations, including:

  • Create good neighbourhood design and maintenance of physical spaces such as good meeting places, public parks, safe and pleasant public spaces, public seating, accessible and walkable spaces, and local shops.
  • Support mixed populations – in terms of income, ethnicity and so on – in new neighbourhood developments.
  • Increase the number of local events such as car boot sales, markets, and street parties.
  • Create ways for local people to share information such as notice boards or email groups.
  • Provide greater opportunities for residents to influence decisions affecting their neighbourhoods and encouraging engagement
  • We also found evidence suggesting that it’s not easy to improve neighbourliness through large-scale policies. Instead, it is better to encourage local understanding and action.

 pic 3

So what works?

We looked at 21,335 studies, and included 51.

We found promising evidence that a range of approaches to community infrastructure can be used to boost social relations and wellbeing in a community, giving people involved a range of options.

There was evidence that…

Community hubs:

  • promote social cohesion by bringing together different social or generational groups;
  • increase social capital and build trust;
  • increase interaction between community members;
  • increase people’s knowledge or skills
  • increase wider social networks.

Changes to neighbourhood design can positively affect sense of belonging and pride in a community.

Interventions in green and blue space that provide the opportunity to participate in activities or gatherings can:

  • improve social interactions;
  • increase social networks social interactions and bonding and bridging social capital;
  • increase physical activity and healthy eating;
  • improve community members’ skills and knowledge.

Interventions that provide a focal point, or targeted group activity, may help to:

  • promote social cohesion between different groups;
  • overcome barriers that may prevent some people (in marginalised groups) from taking part.

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The review recommended that policy makers and commissioners need to be aware that:

  • Changes need to be accessible in terms of physical, attitudinal, cultural, financial, transport and location barriers;
  • Community members should have the opportunity to be involved in organisation and planning;
  • Some changes, particularly those intended to celebrate a local community, may have the potential to leave some community members feeling excluded;
  • It is important to look at outcomes in the long term, and sustainability;
  • Changes which involve a group based activity or other reason to interact may be more successful at removing barriers to participation for marginalised groups.

The review recommended that community groups, leaders and members need to think about:

  • Providing an accessible, comfortable, safe and friendly environment;
  • Removing barriers to inclusion/ actively reaching out to the wider community, particularly when changes are designed to celebrate a particular section of the community;
  • Involve skilled facilitators to ensure that all sectors of the community are represented and consensus can be reached;
  • Consider involving volunteers as a mechanism to enhance long term sustainability.

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