The research, funded under NIHR SPHR’s health inequalities programme, aims to strengthen evidence on effective approaches to support community empowerment in ways that enhance health and reduce inequalities. The focus is a major area based initiative called Big Local, funded by the Big Lottery Fund and rolled out in 150 local neighbourhoods across England. It provides residents of these areas with at least £1 million and a range of other support and funding to improve their neighbourhoods.
SPHR’s study offers an important opportunity to contribute to more effective public health practice in this field. Professor Jennie Popay, who is coordinating the study and is also Deputy Director of NIHR SPHR, explains “successive governments have championed community empowerment, yet surprisingly little is known about whether it improves health and well-being. We aim to help answer that question.”
In its first phase the study has focused on early implementation of Big Local and undertook developmental work for a second phase of research. Phase one findings are now being used to produce learning for local residents themselves, public health audiences and third sector professionals.
In the second phase of work, the team will identify short-term social and health impacts from enhanced community empowerment in these local areas. The researchers are adopting an innovative ‘systems approach’ to evaluation in order to further understand the conditions in which residents’ capability to act collectively are supported, as well as the factors that hinder this. The study will also put in place the building blocks for an evaluation of the longer-term impacts of Big Local on health inequalities. The timeline for this second phase runs from October 2015 to March 2017.
The research is being undertaken by NIHR SPHR members including LiLaC, a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool and Lancaster who are co-ordinating the study, the universities of Bristol, Exeter, Sheffield, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Fuse (a collaboration between Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland Universities).
Contact: Jenny Popay
For more information about the Big Local initiative, visit www.localtrust.org.uk/