In this series of blogs, I want to share experience and learning from a major SameRoom project on loneliness which is currently underway, and also talk about the development of our overall policy framework, which we’re calling Thrive.
In this first post, I’d like to explain a bit more about how I see “Wellbeing” and the role our district and borough councils can play, given how close we are to our local communities.
What is Wellbeing?
There is a lot of stuff written about Wellbeing and, in my opinion, it’s often far too complicated or vague. Wellbeing is important and, put simply, it means feeling good and functioning well (New Economics Foundation). It is about people being able to thrive through the quality of their lives: through a decent level of prosperity (jobs, access to resources), through physical and mental health, through contact with those around them (families, friends, communities) and where they live (access to green spaces and environments that keep them active).
The Five Ways to Wellbeing provides a really solid and simple evidence base for Wellbeing based on a ‘five a day’ mantra of: Taking Notice; Keeping Learning; Giving; Being Active; and Connecting. Wellbeing is about our access to internal (mental) and external (environment) resources that enable us to live well and find a purpose to our lives, some of which we can and cannot control.
Poor wellbeing is understood to be experienced by individuals experiencing one or more issues such as debt, homelessness (or poor / inadequate housing), feeling or being unsafe, being out of work or in poor quality employment, poor health (physical and mental) and so on… These issues are not good both for the individual and the wider community.
What is the Councils role in Wellbeing?
Put simply, all of the things that drive a good level of wellbeing are largely social and economic: housing, the shaping of our communities/environments (parks and spaces, planning, safety (felt and actual), access to good employment, the cleanliness and health of our environments / businesses (streets, water/air quality, food safety…), and the safety net for those who fall on hard times. These are all important and touch our lives in different ways along our generational paths.
How we work and our approach
Most wellbeing issues are complex, with multiple causes and no simple answer. This requires us to work differently (and not all Councils are in this space yet) to understand what causes issues, how they affect people and what might help to make good progress. We are thinking and doing a lot around this area and spending time to enquire more (rather than assume we know) and (genuinely) working with and involving our communities, turning problems upside down to look at the strengths people have (despite their problems), and to work with these, as assets.
Over the years we have been working on a bunch of important areas of work that matter to our Leaders and communities, some of which has been written about (featured in my blogs - social prescribing, safer places, public health). Recently however we have become increasingly aware of the issue of loneliness and the impact of this on communities. The new Minister for Loneliness and the BBC’s recent study are but two examples.
I have heard many times about the health consequences of being lonely being equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2015). However it is so much more nuanced than this, with growing evidence on why loneliness is connected with ill health (mental and physical) and why therefore it matters.
Our call to action around Thrive and Loneliness
Working with key partners at the County Council, the NHS and many others, we have started a SameRoom project on Loneliness, focusing on how we might prevent or reduce loneliness by taking a strengths-based or Thrive approach, and we think that intergenerational connection will be a helpful framing for our work.
We will take time to talk to people who are experiencing loneliness and understand their stories to gain insight. We’ll take a deeper look at children and older people, how well they are connected and whether there is a need for greater connection by working in a specific neighbourhood.
In the blog series, I will be providing snippets of this work and inviting those interested to learn more or get involved. If you want to get involved or hear more please do get in touch.
For more information see What Works for Wellbeing.