xmas3Connection involves not just our relationships with others, but our relationship with the community around us. Our communities are full of assets and resources for our health and wellbeing. The Six Ways to Wellbeing  suggest several ways that you can engage with your local community to make yourself feel better, from connecting with new people to getting more active.

In our Community Health Networks study, we found that people valued a wide range of local places and spaces for their health and wellbeing, such as parks, libraries, shops, gyms, and social or hobby clubs. Connecting to community places and spaces was discussed as having many benefits, including increasing your sense of community belonging, getting out of the house, and providing access to new hobbies and social connections.

Many of these wellbeing assets are free to everyone, but not everyone knows about or makes use of them. We’re currently working on a project in Brentford to design a tool to help people increase their wellbeing connections, including to places and spaces in the community. Part of the project is about getting health and social care practitioners to think in new ways about how they support the wellbeing of their clients. This is through making use of wellbeing assets that exist in the community and acting as an advocate, navigator or even a companion where appropriate.

Case study: My friend discovered that the key to community involvement was trust”…

solweigHaving never been to one before, a friend of mine saw an advertisement in the local shop for a bingo night and decided to go along. She informed the people at her table she had never played bingo and didn’t know what to do, and was assigned a ‘helper’ who kept an eye on her numbers and reminded her of every step. She kept going week after week, as she discovered it was the door to her community as the others spoke of their lives and involvement in other community activities. Soon she was attending bingo at places a bit further from her home, where she would be picked up, given lifts, and even invited to local fundraising activities, as well to the odd coffee gathering. As a result, she then discovered the local knitting and crochet circles and she learnt to quilt.

All the while she was making new friends and nobody asked her about her mental heath condition as they all accepted her for who she was in their eyes. On the days she didn’t feel well, someone would call her with news of what she had missed and of when something special was happening that she might be interested in.

People learnt of her interests and soon she was providing knitting for sale at the weekly market. Within a year her life had changed and she was happier than ever before. She started to take initiative, start projects and organise likeminded people to take action and extend friendships to other people with MH conditions. My friend discovered that the key to community involvement was trust; developing trust in other people and allowing others to trust her.

Solveig Warren, interviewer

Practical tips

  • Take notice of your local area – try a new shop, service or community space in your home or work area over Christmas
  • Suggest local places and assets to others who you think might benefit – share them on social media, or send someone a text.
  • Invite people out with you to try something new – a great way to make that initial connection more fun and less daunting for both of you.
  • Christmas provides many opportunities for community – visit your local Christmas market, ice skating area, or a carol or church service.
  • In our office, we are starting to populate a map on the wall with places we’ve found in the surrounding area which are good for wellbeing – like parks to eat your lunch in.