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With last week’s announcement that Parliament will be dissolved on 30 May to precede a General Election on 4 July 2024, we are calling for all political parties to take critical notice of the importance of community building as we look towards the next term.

At Intelligent Health, we believe that a healthy society is one with active citizens. Here, active communities refers not only to fostering spaces and places for people to be physically active, but also active in a civic sense. Across the country, strong, resilient communities can benefit all Government Departments. That is why, earlier this year we called for a cross-departmental approach to fostering both civic and physical activity in a place through our ‘Routes to Roots’ manifesto.

Our social nature is core to us as a species and sport and physical activity can enable us to connect and thrive. When this socialisation is removed, our resilience to stress events is impacted and it affects our health. For an individual to prosper, they must feel that they are safe, that they are valued and that they belong. Only when these three conditions apply will individuals build resilience. Whilst this resilience builds, stress is reduced and people feel empowered to adopt and maintain new health behaviours and thus, this leads to improvement in health outcomes. This can be measured through markers such as increased physical activity, social cohesion, wellbeing and nature connectedness.

Routes to Roots provides a pathway for low-cost or no-cost policy recommendations across six Government Departments. At its heart is a mission to make places more walkable, building community and enabling individuals to take ownership of their health in a way that is accessible. We are calling on all policymakers to consider making these tangible changes for a brighter, more resilient future of our communities:

Department for Culture, Media and Sport

  • Champion Asset-Based Community Development as a means to grow sustainable physical activity in a place
  • Commit to the longevity of the Physical Activity Taskforce, to ensure physical activity for health remains a cross-departmental priority and enable the aims of Get Active to be delivered.
  • Launch an awareness month where facilities are opened and provide taster sessions to encourage everyone into a new physical activity or sport. Run a social marketing campaign that promotes small tangible changes, particularly walking, to encourage behaviour change.

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

  • Recommend the creation of Citizen’s Assemblies to determine what a healthy place looks like in their local area
  • Ensure participants are demographically representative, including the voice of children and young people.
  • Ensure community researchers are working in places to better understand these communities from their own perspectives.
  • Work with local authorities to implement a policy that considers ‘Playstreets’ within the planning process. Making it a simpler process for communities to close streets off to encourage play, community and physical activity.
  • Follow the National Forest planning policy that requires any new build, either housebuilding or infrastructure to dedicate 20 – 30% of land to safe, equitable and accessible green space.

Department for Transport

  • Change the funding model for highways. Dedicate 5% of spend on every new road dedicated to supporting active travel, creating safer walking and cycling routes including better lighting and surfacing, particularly repairing potholes that affect all road users.
  • Blanket adoption of ’20 is plenty’ on all school streets and change the Highway Code to fully ban pavement parking, reducing air pollution and making the streets outside schools a safer place to walk.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  • Create new urban green spaces by reclaiming disused land into community ownership. Encourage urban allotments and use a volunteer system to educate local people on the benefits of connecting to nature.
  • Increase the biodiversity of active travel routes to create wildlife corridors, through planting wildflowers and trees, encouraging users to be active amongst nature.

Department of Health and Social Care

  • Create and issue a national annual census that measures children and adults’ wellbeing. This could form part of existing data sets, such as the Local Health survey under OHID or the English Housing Survey that sits within DLUHC.
  • Place focus on the role of community in resilience building and preventative health. Deliver a social marketing campaign that empowers the public to understand that they don’t always need to rely on the NHS, educating them on their own agency to take action to help their health.
  • Ensure that Integrated Care Boards ringfence a set percentage of budgets to go towards community-based preventative health programmes operated outside the public sector.

Department for Education

  • Require OFSTED to measure wellbeing of children and staff as a standard for reports. Similarly, to how student satisfaction is measured in Higher Education.
  • Advise schools to permit a uniform policy that encourages the use of footwear that enables daily activity through walking and cycling and moving actively through the day, i.e. allowing pupils to wear trainers for lesson (Active Soles).