Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

New research on how community spaces can improve the health of people with a learning disability

People with a learning disability and their carers are part of 10 different communities who took part in a new research project looking at how they access and use repurposed NHS community spaces.

The communities are those disproportionately affected by health inequalities across the UK and the research was commissioned by NHS Property Services and carried out by the Health Creation Alliance.

The research report found that culturally sensitive, inclusive spaces with an affordable café are top of the list for disabled people along with a multipurpose space (to mix with others and escape stigma) and a range of support services/social activities at the venue.

NHS Property Services have transformed nearly 70 vacant or under-utilised spaces to date for use by community groups and the provision of non-clinical services. The findings will inform NHS Property Services’ work and be the driving force of their national social prescribing programme to support the creation of healthier communities.

The research provides a wealth of information about the nuances and drivers behind what works for different types of communities and draws attention to the many commonalities – things that matter to most communities – in eight ‘big themes’. It also includes 12 recommendations.

Some key findings include:

  • Access is a key consideration for many people – in terms of transport to the venue, access to the building and mobility around the premises. Communities value a sense of ownership of the space and a say in how it is run.
  • Multi-functional spaces that are open to many different types of communities, cultures and generations are most popular e.g., a parent coming for immigration advice, while the child comes for a sport activity to the same venue.
  • Many groups benefit from a calm, welcoming environment with sensory spaces, inclusive spaces and an affordable community café.

Rhea Horlock, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, NHSPS, said, “These findings highlight the importance of appropriate space in creating healthier communities. We have already transformed 69 vacant or under-utilised spaces for use by community groups and the provision of non-clinical services as part of our national social prescribing programme. As we continue to transform our spaces, we will use the findings to make sure all communities can use NHS spaces to create health in ways that work for them.”

Health is shaped by our environment

NHS Property Services says it is working to shift the dial from a system designed to treat illness, to one that works in partnership with communities to create health – where NHS spaces go beyond treatment to become places that support communities to connect.

It adds that the need for this has never been greater, with health inequalities already widened by the Covid-19 pandemic and set to be exacerbated by a cost-of-living crisis, reminding us just how much our health is shaped by our environment.

Merron Simpson, Chief Executive of The Health Creation Alliance, added: “Health and wellbeing is enhanced when people and communities gain control over their lives and environments. Gaining access and a sense of ownership of suitable spaces can be a tremendous boost when those spaces are accessible, welcoming and enable people to come together to do the things they love. We were delighted to partner with NHSPS to bring forward this research, which shows a huge willingness of different types of communities to share spaces with others to support community cohesion and health creation.”

The ten community groups selected were:

  • Carers
  • People with, or recovering from, drug and alcohol dependency
  • Rural communities
  • People with a learning disability
  • People of Somali origin or heritage
  • People with experience of mental iIl-health
  • People from the LGBTQ+ community
  • Women from South Asian origin or heritage
  • Disabled people
  • People from the Roma community.

As well as their social prescribing programme, NHSPS will work to integrate the research recommendations to inform new ways of working with communities to create health.

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