Tackling isolation: outdoor activities and volunteering need to be central to ‘place-based’ health approaches

Featured article - 07 March 2017
By Alex Kenmure, Head of Business Development, GoodGym

Head-shot of the author, Alex Kenmure, Head of Business Development, GoodGym

Many care and support staff are grappling with the idea that health doesn’t begin or end at the door of your local GP or hospital, but more likely people’s own front door. One of the ways of bringing this to life is the concept of place-based health.

Place-based approaches are about mobilising the day-to-day networks and environments around people who have care and support. It is being seen as one of the main ways of both reducing demand on acute health services, but also more importantly providing a better quality of life for people.

The discussions I’ve heard and the things I’ve read tend to focus on how we as a society can better connect systems at a local level; for instance how you get GP surgeries talking to libraries. Useful; however I’m not 100% convinced that is the only, or the most important, problem to solve. Connecting a place together is all very well and good, but if the people living in it don’t feel a connection to that place, then that system might well be compromised.

I think this is where organisations like the one I work for, GoodGym, play a role. We get people to run and volunteer in their local communities, through social group runs to do physical tasks for local charities, or carrying out one-off physical tasks for older people, or by getting people to visit isolated older people as part of their weekly run. These GoodGyms are up and running in 28 different places across London and the UK. We can complement the transformation that local authorities and health organisations are attempting.

Yes; people are getting physically active (on average our runners increase their physical activity by 20 minutes a week); and yes we’re reducing isolation and loneliness (100% of older people feel happier after 6 months of visits). However, the key thing for me is that people involved in GoodGym discover they have a connection with their ‘place’ that they may not have had before; and that this connection can act as a catalyst to connect with local networks that can positively impact their health and wellbeing. Place-based approaches are important, but only if they offer real engagement locally.

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