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How is our Community Engagement Improving Health and Wellbeing?

6 November 2021

3 minutes to read

How is our Community Engagement Improving Health and Wellbeing?

For the last four years, the University of Exeter has been working with Volunteer Cornwall and Coastline Cornwall on a Smartline project, which supports communities in Cambourne, Pool, Illogan and Redruth (CPIR) to take part in activities which will improve health and wellbeing.

We hear from Karen Spooner, Smartline’s Community Engagement Manager from Volunteer Cornwall, to find out more:

How have activities been improving fitness and community cohesion?

“During the first phase of Smartline we asked the community to take part in our guided conversations initiative. This involved small group workshops and surveys. This helped us to connect with people living in the area to understand their wellbeing needs, aspirations and desires for the communities.

“Residents told our researchers they would like more activities that bring people together and help people feel like they belong. Others wanted to improve their physical health.

“We used the responses to target community activities that help to reduce loneliness, improve fitness and improve community cohesion. We organised coffee mornings, fitness sessions, IT sessions, arts and crafts, and developed a new green spaces project to create more nature areas.

“We hope all of these activities will empower people to make positive changes to their lives.”

Two ladies took part in an art class to help design the new nature area for the green space project.

Reducing isolation during the pandemic

“As we entered the second phase of Smartline in 2019, the new activities were affected by the pandemic. We made a swift decision to start using online platforms to communicate with the community and help bring people together.

“Alongside Coastline Housing we developed a virtual coffee morning. A mixture of local residents attend, creating neighbourly relationships between Smartline participants and those not involved in the project. Discussions at the coffee mornings have also resulted in online craft sessions delivered by Ruth Purdy of MITBER, and online history talks delivered by Kresen Kernow.

“We’ve recently started working with St Euny Church in Redruth to set up an internet café. Volunteers help to support the project, and organisations like the Job centre will be invited to use the space to connect with people.

“These activities are more than just social events. They create community spaces where we can support people with a variety of issues from support with paying bills, accessing food banks, becoming a volunteer, accessing public transport and connecting to the community. We enable local organisations to host our sessions to encourage local involvement so that hopefully all of these activities can continue beyond the end of Smartline.

“To make community work “work” we have to ensure that each project we create is based on the community’s needs and are sustainable into the future. “

Person using a digital tablet

The Smartline team taught people how to use tablets, creating a positive effect on health and wellbeing.

Have we made an impact?

“My role as Community Development Manager isn’t all face to face. During the pandemic, I have been working alongside our researchers to help them collect vital data to help us understand people’s needs. One project involved providing more than 200 digital tablets to our Smartline community of research participants.

“We discovered that 22% of the community didn’t have internet and people found the tablets difficult to use.

“We provided internet cards and 14 training events to help people use the tablets to use apps, complete surveys and see information collected through sensors in their homes. People still found the tablets tricky to use, highlighting some of the barriers people face when using technology.

“Despite some of the challenges, the tablets have helped to improve some people’s lives. Six months after the guided conversations we contacted individuals to find out if the conversations had made an impact on their health and wellbeing. We were blown away by the responses.

“An elderly lady living in sheltered accommodation with health issues rarely went outside. She was shown how to access an App called “Borrowbox” to download and read books, as well as how to do her shopping online. She has also been linked up with a befriending organisation. She reports feeling much more positive since having a guided conversation.”

The research team are now working on a new tool called the Happiness Pulse. This will help measure the impact of these community activities via questionnaires, which will be shared digitally and on paper to maximise inclusivity.

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