Community-centred health and wellbeing: scoping a learning approach - RSA

Community-centred health and wellbeing: scoping a learning approach


  • Community and place-based action
  • Public services

Over the next few months, we will be working with the Centre for Ageing Better to investigate prospects and possibilities for learning around community-centred approaches to health and wellbeing in England.

Community-centred approaches cover a broad range of different activities that create an active role for citizens in shaping their health – everything from personal health budgets and getting involved in local health decisions, to peer-support groups and social meet-ups to tackle loneliness.

The ever-growing ‘family tree’ of community-centred approaches has four distinct branches, as defined by Public Health England:

  • Strengthening communities – building on what communities do themselves to tackle the underlying determinants of good health.
  • Offer volunteer and peer roles – enhancing individuals’ capabilities to support or organise activities around health and wellbeing in their communities.
  • Promoting collaboration and partnerships – communities and local services working together to come up with ways of supporting local people.
  • Enabling access to community resources – connecting people to community resources, practical help, group activities and volunteering opportunities to meet their health needs and increase their involvement in their community.

Although the vital importance of community solidarity and participation to our health and wellbeing might seem obvious (the growth of both mutual aid and social isolation in the last 18 months provides ample evidence, positive and negative, for this), public health research regularly focuses on individual risk factors (such as age, family health history and personal lifestyle) rather than what can be done at a community level and what is available in the community to support good health and wellbeing.

So while there are lots of brilliant community-centred health and wellbeing interventions happening across England, there is comparatively little published evidence on what’s being done and how it is effective. We believe learning and collaboration across this budding ‘sector’ can start to bridge this practice-evidence gap, helping to promote:

  • An increased uptake of community-centred approaches across the country.
  • An increased use of evidence within community-centred approaches.
  • People delivering community-centred approaches feeling more supported and connected.
  • Community-centred approaches being designed to work for different demographic groups – particularly the Centre for Ageing Better’s 50-70 age cohort.
  • Community-centred approaches being more transferable, sustainable and resilient to policy and funding cycles.
  • Improved health, wellbeing and community participation results and opportunities.

The RSA’s Living Change Approach (our approach to learning) is premised on the idea that continuous learning, over time and across sectors, is a key ingredient of social change - especially in unpredictable and complex environments. By investigating opportunities for collaborative learning we are uncovering pathways to social change.

What are we doing in the next few months?

There are two parts to this project.

Firstly, we want to better understand what’s already out there. Who are the key individuals and organisations championing community-centred health and wellbeing? To what extent do current projects address healthy ageing, particularly for people most at risk of missing out on a good later life? Where is there strong appetite for greater learning and collaboration? Are there existing learning networks or activities that could be supported, expanded, enhanced?  

Based on what we discover, we’ll explore what learning activities could be developed to complement existing learning activities (formal and informal), applying the ageing lens and addressing any notable gaps in current learning provision.

By looking at existing community-centred initiatives and developing our understanding of the key barriers and opportunities for greater learning (‘thinking systemically’), we can more strategically design a set of targeted options for future learning to grow (‘acting entrepreneurially’).

We need your help!

We want to find out as much as we can about what’s already going on in this space: who is already working on community-led health and wellbeing projects locally and nationally and where are there existing learning initiatives, activities and networks (formal and informal) in operation?

This will help to shape our research plan and will ultimately inform our final recommendations for this project.

We’d also love to stay in touch about this work, to share with you what we’re learning, thank those who contribute to the research and to keep you updated about future opportunities to get involved.

If you have any suggestions or ideas, or if you’d simply like to stay in touch with us about this work, please fill in the short form below to let us know.

We look forward to hearing from you!

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