Leisure centre rebuild shows we can construct thriving communities

From community friendly buildings to quality jobs the Mental Health Foundation has been working with Thrive LDN to improve the factors that influence mental health in the capital.

Our health is influenced by three main factors: genes, environment and social determinants such as poverty and inequality.

As a community we can influence the environment and social determinants making it more or less likely that someone, even those with a high genetic risk, develops symptoms.

For example, a person might be born with a heightened genetic risk for developing schizophrenia but if they are lovingly parented in a well-resourced nurturing environment, they are less likely to become unwell than a person with the same genes who has a harsher start in life.

So, when Thrive LDN, a partnership between the Mayor of London, London Councils, NHS England and Public Health England, asked the Foundation to support them to try and change these factors in the capital we grabbed the chance.

Using 30 different indicators like poverty and crime rates, the Foundation began by mapping the comparative environmental and social determinant risks across the 32 London boroughs.

We found that seven boroughs clustered around the former docking and industrial areas of the East End had the highest risk factors. Working with Thrive LDN and the local borough public health teams we organised Community Conversations bringing together residents and services to hear the evidence for what supports healthier communities and listen to people’s ideas on how to make improvements.

In all we spoke with over 1,000 Londoners in 16 different Boroughs collecting 180 pages of ideas we published as the Londoners Said Report. Conversation participants were sent feedback and asked to try and make the changes suggested.

Nearly two years later we followed-up to find out what, if anything, had changed as a result of the conversations. We surveyed and interviewed the public health organisers and collected electronic survey returns from 10% of everyone who had participated.

We found that large numbers of participants had learned useful information, forged productive relationships and made positive changes. As a result of the conversations people had volunteered, created new jobs and support services in their areas. Health and wellbeing, suicide reduction and inequality strategies were changed to reflect the feedback resulting in improvements to services and the factors influencing mental health.

In one, almost literally concrete example plans for a new leisure centre were changed by feedback from the Hackney Community Conversation where participants said they wanted more free, safe community space. As a result, Hackney Council changed its planning guidance and subsequently the Britannia design of a new leisure centre, currently under construction, will now have more ‘pro-social’ space in the finished building than originally planned.

Feedback from the community led to changes in plans for a new leisure centre, above.

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Through our research, sharing and relationship building Mental Health Foundation has been able to improve some of the environmental and social determinants in half of all the London Boroughs, home to about four million people including some of those most at risk of developing mental ill health. It is learning and an approach we now want to share across the UK so that more of us can thrive regardless of our genes or where we live.


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