SPHR researchers investigated whether concessionary prices or free access to leisure supported people to participate in physical activity across several areas in North West England.
October 2014 - January 2017
Evaluating the public health outcomes of the Cambridgeshire Time Credits project
Research Team: Dr Gemma Burgess, Dr Louise Lafortune & Caroline Lee
Who's involved: University of Cambridge
August 2015 - May 2017
The aim of the research was to evaluate the outcomes of the Time Credits project in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, with a focus on health outcomes. In particular, to determine the initiative’s potential to tackle social exclusion and loneliness, and to assess the extent to which it can improve wellbeing and increase community cohesion and social capital.
There is solid evidence that increased levels of community engagement and social participation have a positive impact on health behaviours, physical and emotional health and self-confidence, especially among disadvantaged populations. These benefits are so widely acknowledged that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance endorses community engagement as a strategy for health improvement.
Time Credits are a way of recognising the time people spend volunteering with a local organisation, community group, volunteer group or statutory sector service provider. In exchange for their contribution, volunteers ‘earn’ a Time Credit note, one for every hour they give. These can be ‘spent’ on a range of leisure and other opportunities, typically donated by organisations, local businesses and corporations to allow the community members to take advantage of their spare capacity. They can also be spent on activities run by other community members.
There are 16 active local organisations where people can earn Time Credits in Wisbech. These include schools, homeless hostels, children’s centres and an adventure playground. Volunteers can earn Time Credits by reading with children, running after school clubs, gardening, office work, working in a café and kitchen, and litter picking. Volunteers can spend Time Credits on activities such as the gym, swimming, the cinema, beauty and hair treatments, attending social events and going to the theatre.
The research used a mixed methods research design that included both quantitative and qualitative methodological tools.
The findings indicate that Time Credits have been particularly successful in engaging with ‘non-traditional volunteers’ (a term used by local organisations). These are people with little or no history of volunteering and who tend to be unemployed or on very low incomes, are in receipt of state benefits and may have long-term physical and mental health issues. They may be socially isolated and have previously had little engagement with local community organisations.
The research found that for this group the experience of earning Time Credits was overwhelmingly positive, with evidence of both direct and indirect health benefits. The key pathways to better health for this group are associated with improved confidence, community and social participation, and a reduction in loneliness.
Burgess, G. (2017) What is the potential for community currencies to deliver positive public health outcomes? Case study of Time Credits in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, UK. Journal of International Community Currencies. Vol. 21 (Summer) Issue 2, pp.19-32 – IJCCR.
Burgess, G. and Durrant, D. Reciprocity in the co-production of public services: the role of volunteering through community time exchange? Social Policy and Society. March 2018.