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Healing through communities: a route away from chronic illness?

timebank rushey green diy photo_pptOur Innovations Manager Helen Cooke looks at the projects that are already building social movements for a healthy society instead of waiting for change to happen in the system.  She describes how you can be part of it, too.

Doing something similar? Tell us about it below.

We’re all only too aware that people are living longer, that chronic disease is on the rise and the NHS is under increasing financial pressure.

Some of our Innovators are proposing simple grass-root solutions to these very issues and appear to provide a real global opportunity for sustainable health improvement. The even better news is that we can all play a part at neighbourhood level– regardless of age, ability or background. Community fragmentation causes social issues such as isolation and loneliness. These are significant problems for people in both low-income and cash rich communities.

The recently published ‘NHS Five Year Forward View’ by NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens is setting the challenge to ‘unleash innovation’ and highlights the need to find ways to tap into ‘renewable energy’ sources. These include exploring the role that patients have in their own healthcare and the role that carers and volunteers can play in the community.

This appears to place innovative community initiatives like Connecting Communities, HELP, Timebanking UK, Nurture Development and Green Dreams high on the new NHS agenda. These approaches share the same simple, but profound aim; to help people take control to create healthier, more flourishing lives at a community level.

Dysfunctional communities inherently know what they need to heal themselves.

It’s clear that poor health is linked to social factors. Innovators like C2 and HELP support communities to lead change and improvements for themselves. They believe that dysfunctional communities inherently know what they need to heal themselves, and that by creating new ‘listening’ relationships between residents and service providers, it is possible to transform a neighbourhood, with remarkable knock on health effects.

It appears that by deepening links between local people, as well as empowering them to take more control over their lives and environment, their community becomes more resilient.

timebanking Picture hexagon1Timebanks can also provide transformational change at community level. There are now an impressive 250 timebanks in the UK which provide a structure which enables people to informally give and receive support from each other – thereby making use of the assets and resources that exist in communities. People simply share their skills; older people might teach cookery or sew and younger people may offer skills like gardening or shop for a neighbour. For every one hour of help, people receive one hour of credit – a beautifully low-tech, enlightened concept.

Our health and wellbeing is largely determined by the extent to which we are positively connected to each other.

Cormac Russell gave a great lecture recently for the College. Cormac is CEO of Nurture Development – a social enterprise which is rolling out an Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach with the aim of building safer, prosperous and more inclusive communities. He proposes that our health and wellbeing is largely determined by the extent to which we are positively connected to each other.

He suggests we have become over-reliant on institutions and frequently use the medical system for issues that are not physiologically based – cultural, social and economic problems. The ABCD approach emphasises the importance of empowering communities to improve their own health and wellbeing by coming together at a local level to share their assets – gifts, talents and community building skills.

Dr James Fleming now sees far fewer people whose conditions are linked to mental health or isolation. Instead they are to be found at the community garden or at the bingo or walking group.

Green Dreams is a perfect example of this. It’s the brainchild of Dr James Fleming (voted GP of the year in 2013) and helps provide local solutions to unemployment, isolation and reduced quality of life by enabling people to positively connect with other members of the community. James had inherited a practice with an enormous amount of social issues. He now sees far fewer people whose conditions are linked to mental health or isolation. Instead they are to be found at the community garden or at the bingo or walking group.

As this year comes to an end, perhaps we can consider what we really care about enough to do something about in our community. 24Maybe taking the time to talk to a like-minded neighbour about a shared passion – something you feel strongly about enough to change at a local level.

Consider joining a local timebank or simply take soup or offer to shop for someone who has been unwell. Cormac reminded us that any action we take should be fun (which as we know is also very good for our health!) and that it’s the small things that can often make the most significant difference. Why wait for others – we just might be the people we’ve been waiting for?