New research by Traverse has been published in ‘Together Through Tough Times’, a new report by the Co-op in partnership with mental health charities Mind, SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) and Inspire.
The findings highlight the importance of resilient communities in supporting people and their mental health.
In response to the research, the Co-op, alongside Mind, SAMH and Inspire are calling on governments across the UK to recognise the importance of community resilience in post-pandemic recovery and beyond.
Alongside Leeds Beckett University, we were commissioned in early 2020 by Mind and The Co-op - and in partnership with SAMH and Inspire - to understand why some communities may already appear more resilient than we might expect, based on the presence of risk factors such as deprivation and unemployment. This builds on the Co-op’s development of the Community Wellbeing Index (CWI), which measures wellbeing across the UK.
The research identified four main themes that appeared to be that helped these communities to be more mentally resilient:
- Community hubs and voluntary sector networks – these allow people to build connections, be active locally and provide access to mental health support. A strong local network of voluntary sector organisations helps communities respond to challenges and ensure people get the support they need.
- Actively participating and making connections within communities - public space provides opportunities for people to build social connections, pride in the area, relax and reflect. Through neighbourliness, community organising and volunteering, people are able support their own and others’ resilience.
- Open and supportive environments to talk about mental health and wellbeing - an ‘open door culture’ for people to talk about mental wellbeing and share personal experiences helps reduce stigma and frame mental health as something that affects everyone.
- Identities and belonging - Community identities and shared narratives establish a sense of belonging and help people to feel secure and connected to their community, as well as like the community can overcome challenges together.
The research also found that some groups had more limited access to the protective factors identified within these four themes and so were at risk of being left behind in their communities. This includes children and young people, newcomers, people from ethnic minority backgrounds and people living in poverty.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said:
“The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on all of us, especially those of us living with a mental health problem. This research highlights the role of community in supporting people and their mental health at this critical time. From being able to spend time in parks and green spaces to being in touch with a community mutual aid group, or simply checking in on neighbours from a safe distance, we know that connections between people and places matter when looking after our mental health.
“We’re thrilled that our partnership with Co-op will deliver new mental health services to respond to the growing need for mental health support in communities, but we can’t do this alone. As we learn to live with the pandemic and its aftermath, the value of our communities in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of the whole country, needs to be recognised.”
Tim Bidey, senior consultant at Traverse, commented:
“It was a privilege to undertake this work on behalf of the partnership as it continues its programme of work supporting local communities across the UK. We are also very grateful to all of the local community organisations and residents who shared their thoughts and experiences during an extremely challenging time.
“The research highlights the importance of resilient communities in supporting people and their mental health, and its findings give a clear message that activity to support community resilience needs to be driven by locally defined needs rather than top-down initiatives. However, this does not mean that responsibility for resilience sits with residents and communities alone, particularly when systemic or historic factors may impact their efforts.
“Developed in response to the research, the partnership’s robust recommendations for governments and policy makers in the four nations will play a key role in supporting communities to strengthen their resilience, improve mental health and wellbeing, and help ensure no one is left behind.”
The qualitative research was carried out in four locations: Bilston (England), Haverfordwest (Wales), Yoker (Scotland) and Portadown (Northern Ireland). Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the fieldwork pivoted online in the context of recurring local and national lockdowns and took place between summer 2020 - winter 2020/21.
The methodology comprised semi-structured interviews undertaken with 39 residents across the four sites and 35 representatives of community groups, local organisations, community leaders and local authorities. Eight community analysis workshops and resilience map workshops were also undertaken to further explore the insights emerging from the interviews.