The final evaluation report for the Local Conversations Programme shows that developing community power can make a difference to neighbourhoods by building collective agency and action around social determinants of health.
This process results in improvements in many aspects of wellbeing for residents in marginalised communities including trust, connectedness and neighbourhood belonging. However, despite strong evidence of positive change, wider influences including austerity continue to drive worse overall health for people living in areas experiencing the highest levels of disadvantage.
The People’s Health Trust funded Local Conversations programme aims to contribute to a reduction in health inequalities through community-led initiatives which tackle inequalities impacting people’s health.
Through six waves of data collection with more than 2800 responses over four years, there is evidence that participation in the programme has led to several positive wellbeing outcomes that are above national averages for similarly disadvantaged areas and even England averages in some cases.
The residents’ survey, details of which can be found in the report, demonstrates that Local Conversations participants are more satisfied with life, less anxious, and more likely to feel that the things they do in life are worthwhile, compared to averages for both England and similarly disadvantaged neighbourhoods in England
The report by New Economics Foundation found that people involved in their Local Conversations programme were much more engaged in their local area. For example, 82 per cent agree that when people in the area get involved in their local community, they can really change the way the area is run, compared to 54% in England as a whole.
The report finds that the programme has had positive impacts not just on the neighbourhoods but on the individuals involved. 62 per cent either agree or strongly agree that their Local Conversation has helped them develop and learn new skills and 65 percent agree it has made them feel more confident.
Local Conversations programmes were also at the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic response. Although core activities had to take a back seat and centres had to close, the strong social connections and sense of agency the programme has developed helped create a lifeline for many residents.
Despite these demonstrable wellbeing benefits for participants and the wider community, Local Conversations participants have consistently reported slightly lower levels of good or very good health than Wales averages, and similarly disadvantaged neighbourhoods in England. Local Conversations residents were also almost twice as likely to report bad or very bad health (10%) than the England average (6%).
These findings also align with wider evidence that good health and life expectancy is declining in the communities experiencing the highest levels of disadvantage across Great Britain. As highlighted in The Marmot Review: 10 Years On, increased austerity has directly undermined people’s long-term health outcomes though the retreat of essential services. In practice, this could mean that Local Conversations found themselves required to plug gaps in response to local needs rather than building and enhancing neighbourhoods.
Whilst the report highlights the potential of local people to tackle inequalities when greater control is given to communities, it also highlights that systemic pressures continue to define the overall direction of health inequalities in Great Britain.
You can read the full Evaluating the impact of Local Conversations 2016-2021 summary report here.
Find previous reports here.