Queen’s University Belfast: Major UK study to assess the impact of community organisations on public health

The project, funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), involves Queen’s University, Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), Glasgow Centre for Population Health, Bournemouth University and the University of East London. The £1.5million project will work with communities to investigate the links between community, health, and wellbeing.

The three-year study will evaluate the public health benefits provided by a wide range of community-led organisations and activities, such as walking groups, cookery lessons, language classes, community gardens and cafes.

Researchers will discover how they improve people’s lives and help drive positive change.

Community-led organisations in and around Glasgow, Bournemouth, Belfast, and East London, will take part in the project, entitled Common Health Assets.

Professor Rachel Baker, the project lead and Director of the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health at GCU, said: “The importance of community spirit, mutual aid and support was brought home to us all during the pandemic.

“This research will help focus attention on the importance of community to public health generally; especially important as we rebuild, and imagine, what may be required to cope with future crises.

“It is really significant that the National Institute for Health Research – the major funder of medical and public health research in the UK – has recognised how important communities are in health improvement.”

John Cassidy, Chair of Scottish Communities for Health and Wellbeing, which represents community-led health and wellbeing improvement organisations across Scotland, said: “For too long scientists, officials and planners have decided what is good for communities.

“They try to put right what they see as deficits in those communities. It is much better to start with the communities themselves

“When people work to their strengths, whatever they may be, this has the effect of bringing about all sorts of benefits. The evidence suggests that this not only leads to improvements to community spaces, it can also help people feel better and improve their health.

“What has not been clear up to now, is how these very important benefits come about.”

Dr Karen Galway, from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “It’s really exciting to be working with community leaders but also with people living locally in this important research.”

Professor Sam Porter, of Bournemouth University, said: “By studying the ways that different community-led groups operate, we will be able to understand the ways that these things work, better than we do now, and apply the learning to other places.”

Dr Marcello Bertotti, Reader in Community Health at the University of East London, added: “We aim to design a programme theory which will enable us all to build models of community-led organisations that are scalable and sustainable in different contexts. Overall, this will lead to better support for residents across the UK, particularly those in the most vulnerable groups.”

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