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Solace blog

6th September 2016

‘What gives you a good life?’

‘What gives you a good life?’ is the question we have recently been asking care home residents in Wakefield in order to better measure wellbeing. Unsurprisingly, most people answer that it is friends and family – the opportunity to have meaningful social contact – that gives them a sense of wellbeing, rather than their physical environment. It is easy for statutory services to overlook the importance of the ‘what makes a good life?’ question to their residents when their priority is delivering statutory services in an ever more challenging financial environment but this question is an
important one. Possibly the most important question you can ask.

Community Wellbeing can be captured in two ways: access to physical assets such as parks, shops, and places of worship, and access to social opportunities measured by things like levels of volunteering, sports clubs and community groups (essentially the ‘good life’ bit as identified by our care home residents).

In Wakefield, we aspire to high levels of community wellbeing and we are fortunate to have many physical assets including the beautiful Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Hepworth Gallery. However, like everywhere, we also have our challenges, including an aging population which is more vulnerable to being socially isolated. A recent report by the Campaign to End Loneliness estimates that there are one million, one hundred thousand people over the age of 65 in the UK who are chronically lonely. In Wakefield, we have recently interviewed over 500 older people to ask
them about their experiences of health and social care and over a third of them said that they didn’t have as much social contact as they would like. This is worrying when you consider that being lonely has the same impact on your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and that socially isolated people have greater health and social care usage.

How can we increase community wellbeing to give people a ‘good life’ and support them to remain independent?

There isn’t a simple answer but we are working with partners such as the NHS, the fire service and the voluntary sector to deliver shared outcomes, including those that drive community wellbeing, across our programmes of work.

We deliver what we measure so creating metrics to measure community wellbeing is a good start. We are also looking at how to enable community wellbeing across the district with programmes such as those supporting community anchors ( medium sized voluntary sector organisations based in neighbourhoods and providing activities and a ‘voice’ for the whole community). St Georges, a community anchor in Wakefield, has 400 local people using their services every week, many of them older residents. They provide lunch clubs, bowling and tai chi amongst many other activities which bring the whole community together.

We’re also currently commissioning a social wellbeing service which will use the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ model developed by the New Economics Foundation. This includes investment directly into the voluntary sector to increase community wellbeing in response to what residents say that they need in order to have a ‘good life’ in Wakefield.

By Joanne Roney OBE, Chief Executive of Wakefield Council and Solace Spokesperson on Community Wellbeing