Healthy Communities 

One of the most important challenges for public health and health promotion is how to actively engage individuals and communities to give people greater control over their health and lives. 

We have a programme of research, postgraduate education and public engagement on the themes of community health, active citizenship and volunteering which focuses on what communities can contribute to health and how participation can be stimulated and sustained. Colleagues have expertise on topics including:

  • Volunteering in health and social care
  • Peer education and peer support
  • Community health workers
  • Health trainers and health champions
  • Asset-based approaches
  • Models of citizen involvement in governance, planning, service delivery and evaluation
  • Participatory research

Linked to this theme, we have a collaborative research and academic activity agreement with Public Health England which supports the embedding of community-centered approaches into public health practice.

Featured research

Community-centred approaches to health and well-being

Bringing together findings from key stakeholders in public health, in particular lay-workers and local communities, to underpin policy and strategy in community-based approaches to health and wellbeing, for Public Health England and NHS England.

Bringing together findings from key stakeholders in public health, in particular lay-workers and local communities, to underpin policy and strategy in community-based approaches to health and wellbeing, for Public Health England and NHS England.

Woman in carer uniform engages with older man in wheelchair
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Leeds Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) evaluation

This collaborative and robust evaluation was commissioned by Leeds City Council to evaluate the pioneering Leeds ABCD programme. The Centre for Health Promotion Research, led by Prof Jane South, worked with the ABCD team and the network of Community Builders to design and carry out an in-depth evaluation from 2019-21.

It is a community building approach based in neighbourhoods which supports local people to make the changes they want to see in their area. The approach focuses on what is strong (the skills and assets of the people and the area) and not what is wrong. The goal is to support neighbourhoods to thrive by bringing people together and improving their health and wellbeing.

The evaluation found evidence on positive outcomes linked to what ABCD was trying to do:

  • People made new friends
  • Community members and organisations became more connected
  • Residents took action to make their neighbourhood a better place

Additionally, there were changes in the mindset of residents and workers. Community members started to change how they thought and took control of projects and spaces. Workers no longer tried to deliver everything themselves, so they could use their time and skills to support others to run more groups and projects. Also, residents’ health and wellbeing improved – this was linked to increased confidence and connectivity.

There was strong evidence that ABCD works in different communities and contexts.

The evaluation found that allowing time to build trust, having a base (e.g. a community centre), local knowledge of the area and people, plus peer support from the Community Builders Network helped ABCD develop. Senior level support from Leeds City Council, a culture of permission and a willingness to cede control to communities were also key ingredients for success.

For more information, please see the evaluation reports or summaries:

For more information related to the Leeds approach, visit the ABCD in Leeds webpage.

Space to Connect

Space to Connect is a Co-op Foundation / DCMS funded programme. It aims to build social connections by identifying, protecting and developing local spaces that give people opportunities to come together and initiate meaningful social action. The Centre for Health Promotion (CHPR), led by Professor Mark Gamsu, have been the lead learning and evaluation partner producing:

  • A report of the direct experiences of projects involved
  • A toolkit to help community organisations use ‘digital’ more effectively
  • A policy review of the voluntary sector’s response to the pandemic
  • A discussion tool for local decision makers about the role of community ‘anchor’ organisations
  • Evaluation report about the impact of the programme
  • Communities of Place evidence programme for the What Works Centre for Wellbeing

CHPR staff, led by Prof Jane South, form part of the Communities of Place Wellbeing Evidence Programme in the UK What Works Centre for Wellbeing. They have produced a number of outputs from this work, including:

Led by Prof. Jane South, we have worked with the New Economics Foundation to evaluate Local People and Local Conversations. These two projects are funded by the People’s Health Trust and aim to increase control, wellbeing and health at a community level.

  • Atkinson S; Bagnall A; Corcoran R; South J; Curtis S (2020), Being Well Together: Individual Subjective and Community Wellbeing. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1-19 doi: 10.1007/s10902-019-00146-2
  • Public Health England/NHSE (2015) A guide to community-centred approaches for health and wellbeing
  • South J, Bagnall AM, Stansfield J, Southby K, Mehta P (2017) An evidence-based framework on community-centred approaches for health: England, UK. Health Promotion International, 1-11. doi: 10.1093/heapro/dax083 
  • South, J. Stansfield, J., Amlôt, R., Weston, D.  Sustaining and strengthening community resilience throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Perspectives in Public Health. 2020; 140, 6, 305-8 [Online 21st August 2020]:
  • South J; Button D; Quick A; Bagnall A-M; Trigwell J; Woodward J; Coan S; Southby K (2020), Complexity and Community Context: Learning from the Evaluation Design of a National Community Empowerment Programme
  • Southby, K., South, J. and Bagnall, A.M., 2019. A rapid review of barriers to volunteering for potentially disadvantaged groups and implications for health inequalities. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 30(5), pp.907-920.
  • Southby, K. and Gamsu, M. (2018) Factors affecting general practice collaboration with voluntary and community sector organisations. Health & social care in the community, January. View Abstract » Stansfield, J. South, J., Mapplethorpe, T. What are the elements of a whole system approach to community-centred public health? A qualitative study with public health leaders in England’s local authority areas. BMJ Open 2020;10:e036044. 2020. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2019-036044/.
  • Warwick-Booth, L., South, J., Giuntoli, G., Kinsella, K.F. & White, J.  (2020) ‘Small project, big difference’: capacity building through a national volunteering fund: an evaluation of the Department of Health’s Health and Social Care Volunteering Fund Voluntary Sector Review  11, pp. 21-40.
  • Rippon, S., Bagnall, A-M., Gamsu, M., South, J., Trigwell, J., Southby, K., Warwick-Booth, L., Coan, S. and Woodward, J. (2020), Towards transformative resilience: community, neighbourhood and system responses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cities & Health DOI: 10.1080/23748834.2020.1788321