Projects to help communities reduce health inequalities

Group standing outdoors in coastal scene

The mobilising community assets to tackle health inequalities programme aims to improve health through access to culture, nature and community.

The projects in the mobilising community assets to tackle health inequalities programme seek to tackle entrenched and long-standing health inequalities in some of Britain’s poorest communities. They will do this by exploring how health systems can collaborate more effectively with communities.

Some of the projects will explore ways of addressing health inequalities in rural and coastal communities. Others will be focused on tackling systems change to support specific communities, including:

  • Roma communities
  • refugees and migrant communities
  • people experiencing homelessness
  • D/deaf British Sign Language (BSL)-using communities
  • children and young people experiencing mental health challenges

Shaping a healthier, happier Britain

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Health Inequalities Programme Director, Professor Helen Chatterjee said:

The evidence is clear – intellectual stimulation, a sense of purpose, engagement in your community and a fulfilling social life are as important as diet, exercise and medical care when it comes to living a long and healthy life. Yet often public health interventions neglect this reality.

These projects seek to improve the length and quality of our lives by making use of the rich cultural, artistic, nature and social resources that already exist within our communities. In this way, we can shape a healthier, happier Britain.

Director of Community Health and Personalised Care at NHS England, James Sanderson said:

We know that joining up care leads to better outcomes for people. When local partners – the NHS, councils, the voluntary sector and others work together, they can create better services based on local need and what matters to people. Harnessing community assets, finding the opportunities for connection, activity and purpose can support people to achieve good health and wellbeing outcomes.

Third phase of the programme

This is the third phase of the programme, led by AHRC in collaboration with the following councils, all part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI):

  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
  • Economic and Social Research Council
  • Medical Research Council
  • Natural Environment Research Council

Additional funding has come from UKRI’s building a secure and resilient world and creating opportunities, improving outcomes strategic themes.

The programme is also run in partnership with the National Centre for Creative Health.

Place and systems

Several of the projects aim to tackle problems facing specific types of communities.

Dr Sara Bradley’s project, based at the University of South Wales, will explore how community-based services can address the challenges faced by rural communities in the Scottish Highlands. These include social isolation, deprivation and delivering services to dispersed communities across large geographical areas.

She and her team will work with local residents, community groups and healthcare professionals to maximise the use of community assets such as museums, libraries and green spaces. Through the project they aim to integrate the community assets with health and care systems.

Importance of community-based resources

Dr Bradley said:

This project will deepen our understanding of rural health inequalities and how to address them in a way that will benefit rural communities across the UK and beyond. By actively involving local residents, we will help rural communities to have a meaningful role in research and service design.

This represents an excellent opportunity to research rural health inequalities, which often remain hidden, and to highlight the importance of community-based resources like museums to rural areas. Our aim is to increase public engagement with local cultural and natural resources in order to widen participation, improve community resilience and promote mental well-being.

Focus on coastal communities

Another project led by the University of Liverpool and the University of Bristol will focus on coastal communities, which suffer some of the worst health outcomes and inequalities in the UK.

Focusing on Blackpool, Weston-super-Mare and Hastings, the project will bring the NHS, local authorities, researchers, voluntary and community organisations and residents together to tackle health inequalities. It will focus in particular on mental health, including:

  • young people’s mental health
  • substance misuse
  • life-limiting illness, grief and bereavement

Arts, storytelling and community

Other projects aim to reduce health inequalities using the resources or assets already at the disposal of communities.

This includes the Arts4Us project based at Edge Hill University, which focuses on the mental health of children aged nine to 13. The project will involve children and young people across the north-west coast of England in the creation of a digital platform where local arts activities can be made accessible to them.

Involving children and young people in creating the platform will help those taking part develop the skills to access and maximise the benefits of arts activities that support their mental health.

Principal investigator Professor Vicky Karkou said:

This collaborative project with over 50 partners aspires to create methodologies, frameworks and training material that will be relevant nationally and internationally, supporting the mental health of children and young people wherever they live.

Addressing misinformation and building trust

Another project, ReCITE, is led by Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. It will explore how storytelling can be better integrated into community and health systems to tackle health inequalities in disadvantaged communities in Merseyside.

Working with local communities, it aims to address misinformation and build trust in relation to health prevention measures such as cancer screening and childhood immunisation. It will do this by developing stories with communities, building on existing structures to test a more integrated creative health approach.

Advocating for under-served communities

Professor Miriam Taegtmeyer, project lead from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said:

We are pleased to have this opportunity to bring creative storytellers together with local communities, health professionals and researchers. ReCITE puts people with lived experience at the heart of tackling health inequities, harnessing the power of telling stories that resonate with people to catalyse change and advocate for under-served communities.

Utilising the research expertise at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and our partner universities, we will test and evaluate the effectiveness of this creative health approach as a way to improve health outcomes.

Further information

Creative health boards: a new model for embedding creative health and community assets in health systems across the UK

Led by: Professor Christopher Dayson, Sheffield Hallam University

AHRC funding: £2.1 million

The project aims to create a new model for integrating art, culture and other creative activities in health and care services, creative health boards. They will be led by community organisations such as local charities, community groups, museums and theatres. They will  involve representation from the NHS, councils and private sector to work collaboratively to raise awareness of the health benefits of art, culture and creativity.

Starting in Doncaster and other parts of South Yorkshire, the project aims to set up six new creative health boards across the UK. They will allow arts, culture and creativity to be more easily accessed by people at most risk of poor health. The project also aims to set up new resources such as a creative health handbook for use across health and care services.

Community asset partners:

  • darts, Doncaster’s participatory arts charity
  • Cast, Doncaster’s theatre
  • Doncaster Social Prescribing Service

Other partners:

  • Doncaster Councils
  • NHS South Yorkshire
  • South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority
  • National Academy for Social Prescribing

National partnership to tackle health inequalities in coastal communities

Led by: Dr Barbara Mezes, the University of Liverpool and Dr Lucy Selman, the University of Bristol

AHRC funding: £2.4 million

Coastal communities suffer some of the worst health outcomes and inequalities in the UK. However, they are also rich in community assets, such as cultural organisations, community centres, and charities supporting residents’ wellbeing.

Focusing on three different coastal towns, Blackpool, Weston-super-Mare and Hastings, this project will bring together the NHS, local authorities, researchers, voluntary and community organisations and residents to see how greater collaboration can tackle health inequalities.

It will focus in particular on key problem areas in mental health, young people’s mental health, substance misuse, and life-limiting illness and bereavement, with the aim of improving community-based support. The project will achieve this by bolstering and evidencing the impact of creative community assets and supporting partnership working and integration of creative community assets into health and social care systems.

Arts4Us: working together to scale up place-based arts initiatives that support the mental health of children and young people

Led by: Professor Vicky Karkou, Edge Hill University

AHRC funding: £2.5 million

The project will focus on the mental health of young people aged nine to 13, a group at significant risk of developing mental health problems while transitioning from childhood to adolescence.

The project will create an easy-to-use digital platform where evidence-based local arts activities can be made accessible for children and young people (CYP), their families and relevant organisations and services.

CYP will act as co-researchers maximising the benefits of arts activities that support their mental health. They will work jointly with community partners, health services and academic institutions to develop evaluative frameworks, digital material and good arts-based practice that will support the mental health of CYP on the north-west coast. The project will ensure its outputs are scalable nationally and internationally, making a positive impact on the lives of CYP wherever they are based.

Co-producing integrated place-based supports to enable healthy ageing-in-place for Roma communities

Led by: Professor Ryan Woolrych, Heriot-Watt University

UKRI funding: £1.1 million

Roma groups experience some of the poorest health and wellbeing outcomes across society, including significantly lower life expectancies, higher prevalence of long-term chronic conditions and increased social exclusion.

The project aims to identify how community assets can support healthy ageing for Roma communities, aimed at reducing health inequities in middle to later life (from 40 onwards). To this end the project will involve Roma communities in the localities of Glasgow, Luton and Peterborough. It will use mediums such as storytelling and art to understand how health inequities are experienced, developing new ways to connect the physical, social and cultural assets, which can support healthy ageing.

Co-creating asset and place-based approaches to tackling refugee and migrant health exclusion

Led by: Professor Margaret Greenfields, Anglia Ruskin University

UKRI funding: £2.4 million

Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants can experience poor health caused by a variety of factors such as language barriers, employment, education and poverty.

The project will explore how community assets can be used to improve health, wellbeing and social support that addresses these factors. Examples of community assets include advice and information services, community hubs and groups, religious organisations and open spaces.

It will research new ways for these factors to be addressed within integrated health systems that bring together services such as the NHS and local authorities as well as the voluntary sector.

Other institutions involved: Middlesex University (team led by Professor Eleanor Kofman) and the University of Greenwich (team led by Professor Elena Vaccheli).

Challenging health outcomes/integrating care environments (CHOICE) phase three: a community consortium to tackle health disparity for people living with mental illness

Led by: Professor Gerard Leavey, Ulster University

UKRI funding: £1.9 million

People with severe mental illness face profound social exclusion. They also die much younger than the general population from preventable causes.

CHOICE will establish a new model providing inter-agency collaboration and capacity at community-level. It will provide flexible and sustained support for people with several mental illness to access resources and assets such as arts, leisure and sports.

In exploring this new way of prescribing, the project aims to address issues such as  fragmentation of care, public and self-stigma, which leads to social exclusion and poor physical health.

ReCITE: building research by communities to address inequities through expression

Led by: Professor Miriam Taegtmeyer, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

UKRI funding: £2.5 million

Culture and the arts contribute to health and wellbeing, shifting the focus away from ‘disease’ to people. Storytelling can be used as a way of collecting data, highlighting inequities to policymakers, providing health messages to communities and redirecting public agendas to better promote health equity.

The project will explore how storytelling can be better integrated into community and health systems to address gaps in care and promote health equity. Working with people in the poorest areas of Liverpool, it aims to address mistrust in relation to health prevention measures, such as cancer screening and childhood immunisation. It does this by developing stories with communities, inspiring storytelling partnerships and providing the evidence policymakers need to commission and advocate for a creative health approach.

Rural co-design and collaboration: maximising rural community assets to reduce place-based health inequalities.

Led by: Dr Sara Bradley, the University of South Wales

UKRI funding: £1.2 million

Community-based services like exercise groups, outdoor activities, art therapies and peer support are increasingly being ‘prescribed’ to address mental health conditions, sedentary lifestyles and health inequalities. Despite greater recognition of the potential benefits, such interventions are not universally available or accessible. This is particularly true in rural areas, where the extent of social isolation, deprivation and health inequality can remain hidden.

By working closely with communities, healthcare professionals and third sector organisations, the project aims to maximise the use of local assets such as museums, libraries and green spaces to:

  • promote health and wellbeing
  • reduce health inequalities

The project will establish local collaborative groups to identify key resources, health needs and gaps in data in six rural communities in the Scottish Highlands. The groups will share their learning and develop a toolkit of value to other rural communities, service planners and policymakers.

Making every community asset count: improving health and reducing inequalities for people experiencing homelessness

Led by: Dr Christina Cooper and Professor Monique Lhussier, Northumbria University

UKRI funding: £1.4 million

Despite the recognised importance of creative health approaches, they have not typically been considered a core part of support services for homeless people. Co-led by people with experience of homelessness, the project aims to understand the impact of trauma on everyday functioning, and how creative approaches might help with this.

Working with decision-makers in the north-east and north Cumbria, the researchers will develop a network of care services, including creative health approaches. They will also use creative approaches to challenge stigma around homelessness and determine how services can work together effectively to prevent and tackle homelessness.

Tackling health inequalities with and for D/deaf BSL-using communities in Wales

Led by: Dr Christopher Shank, Bangor University

UKRI funding: £1.04 million

The project aims to design, implement and evaluate D/deaf community-led solutions for known health inequities and inequalities facing D/deaf people using BSL in Wales.

Issues include inconsistent interpreting services, poor communications in healthcare which can lead to underdiagnosis and a lack of treatment, and an inability to access assets due to materials not being available in BSL. Another issue is the fact that D/deaf people are twice as likely to experience mental health problems as the general population.

It aims to improve healthcare services at every stage, through work with D/deaf people, the NHS, health boards and other service providers. It aims to develop a range of tools, such as video guide apps for better access to heritage sites and an online dictionary and resources to help interpreters and service providers.

The abundance project: enhancing cultural and green inclusion in social prescribing in south-west London to address ethnic inequalities in mental health

Led by: Professor Maria Chatzichristodoulou, the University of the Arts London and Professor Tushna Vandrevala, Kingston University London

UKRI funding: £1.2 million

Black, minority ethnic and refugee communities who live in poorer south-west London boroughs and other cities across the UK are at the greatest risk of poor mental health. However, they are least likely to engage with cultural and green community assets or social prescribing.

The project aims to develop ways for these communities to engage with assets such as galleries, museums, natural spaces and community groups and benefit from them. It will empower Black, minority ethnic and refugee communities by taking a community-led approach to engaging assets within health systems and creating opportunities to reduce mental health inequalities.

REALITIES in health disparities: researching evidence-based alternatives in living, imaginative, traumatised, integrated, embodied systems

Led by: Dr Marisa de Andrade, the University of Edinburgh

UKRI funding: £2.5 million

The project will explore how changes to health and social care systems can benefit deprived communities and people with experience of trauma, homelessness, poverty, unemployment, displacement, poor mental health or imprisonment. Their work includes understanding what is needed to build systems that create health and wellbeing. It explores and explains how creativity, relationships and nature create healthier and more resilient communities and environments for people in deprived areas.

Working across Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Easter Ross, Edinburgh and North Lanarkshire, it will support communities to build new systems based on their local needs to best support improved health and wellbeing.

Top image:  Credit: SolStock, E+ via Getty Images

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