We have been working with the Co-operative Group and meeting with communities of people across the UK to find out what wellbeing means to them. Both collectively and as individuals.
The workshops aim to put people’s voices at the heart of the Community Wellbeing Framework the Co-op is developing, and will go on to influence the work they do in over 1500 locations.
Last week, Radhika Bynon and Isabel Young, traveled to Nottingham where they were met by the sunshine and a group of over thirty people keen to discuss what makes them feel well in their city. Isabel highlights four key things raised that can help create community wellbeing.
In all of the groups we have spoken with so far across the UK, some core ideas of what wellbeing means, and what aspects of it are most important for communities to thrive, continue to reoccur. These include:
- The importance of ‘green spaces’ – spending time in nature, living in areas with low pollution levels, being able to take your dog for a walk in the park.
- How crucial relationships are – whether it’s with family, friends, or the local shopkeeper. What makes us feel good or well, is when we are able to make positive connections.
- Access to facilities, services and local infrastructure – this includes libraries, community hubs, and gyms, as well as opportunities to take dance classes, cook together in a community kitchen, or attend regular community events.
But here are some of my reflections on some of the key ways in which community wellbeing can be further supported:
- Enable opportunities for communities and individuals to improve their own wellbeing
In Nottingham, the group took these concepts one step further. Wellbeing is, for them, not just about making the most of what was already available in their communities, but also creating opportunities to be together.
These ranged from establishing an annual pub crawl, taking part in the local Parkrun, or joining one of the free community meals offered across the city. But it didn’t stop there. They continued to make suggestions for how to further contribute to the sense of community wellbeing, and for it to have wider reach and benefit. More coffee mornings, particularly for those on low incomes was one such suggestion.
- Support the free expression of individual identity
To feel a sense of belonging, to be able to be yourself, to respect one another and to have all of this reflected in community services and activities, was said to be a central part of community and individual wellbeing.
For example, one member of the group talked about the importance of resisting stereotypes and being yourself. Another discussed how they liked that their community was a safe place that encouraged self-expression, exemplified for them, by the popularity of Nottinghamshire Pride.
- Make mental health a priority
One of the most invaluable conversations we had was around mental health provision, and significantly, the absence thereof. Several people talked about their own personal experiences of struggling with mental health, and how they felt that the local authorities needed to make the provision of mental health services in the city a priority.
There was an overall feeling that cuts to public services were having a direct impact to the mental wellbeing of communities in Nottinghamshire, and that there should be more investment in the things that alleviate mental health problems, and that we know contribute to wellbeing – green spaces, more community activities and more affordable and accessible exercise.
- Create spaces for people to talk and be heard
It was a pleasure to meet with an incredible group of people, who created such a friendly and supportive environment in which people could comfortably share their lived experiences. For all our benefits, we must promote opportunities where people feel able to share such personal stories and feel genuinely listened to, particularly when discussing a sensitive and diverse topic like wellbeing.
For one attendee, who is living with a number of chronic mental health conditions, he told us the workshop was a wonderful environment in which he felt happy and a spark, so much so, he was smiling, singing and dancing all the way home!
Here’s to talking more about community wellbeing…