Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, looks at how Northampton is bringing public and private organisations together to develop a new consensual plan for food.

It was always intended that our Health on the High Street campaign, launched through the national media in March, would be both long lasting and include several different strands. Our plan was to support local authorities in their bid to create healthier communities.

One of our main recommendations was that local authorities should have the responsibility over high street ‘design’ through powers such as planning controls  and differential business rates to prevent the ‘clustering’ of unhealthier businesses including fast food outlets, betting shops and sun tanning salons. This is supported by the Local Government Association and many local authorities and with this Government’s plans for devolution in Manchester, we are hopeful that they will want to devolve more powers to local areas.

RSPH is keen to increase debate about how to improve our high streets up and down the country and so it was with a spring in my step that I left Euston station last Thursday morning for Northampton to deliver the key note address to the Northamptonshire Health and Wellbeing Board at their Development session ‘Food in Northamptonshire’.

Northampton had the 5th unhealthiest high street in our rankings and it was great to see the enthusiasm of the Health and Wellbeing Board to explore improvements in the food culture in the area. The far sighted Director of Public Health Dr Akeem Ali had brought together public and private organisations from across the county involved in all areas of food in order to develop a new consensual plan for food.

Chaired by Councillor Robin Brown (Chair of the HWB Board) and Councillor Chris Millar, Leader of Daventry District Council,  in the historic Guildhall,  we were treated to  presentations giving a holistic view of food in this predominantly rural county. Food is important to the Northamptonshire economy with 150 food manufacturers and around 26,000 people employed in the food industry, which is twice the national average. One in seven jobs is in farming and food is a growth sector.

We heard from Kate Williams from Groundwork about their creative work with local communities to encourage understanding about food but also to provide opportunities for people of all ages to garden. The result is improved knowledge, team building, less social isolation, improved physical activity and better eating habits.

Dr Peter Barker highlighted the varied and complex health problems resulting from obesity and told us about his own weight loss journey and we also heard about the Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards and the successful ‘Eat Out Eat Well’ initiative. This has encouraged restaurants to promote health eating through smaller portions,  reduced salt and sugar, and promoting a diet with lots of fruit and vegetables.

The output from the day was to agree the vision, aims and share ideas for a cohesive implementation plan to tackle food culture, inequalities and obesity in the county. It is clear that there are many first class food initiatives happening in the county and a plan that can join up the programmes, explore and plug the gaps and scale it to ensure that everyone is included, will have great benefits for the citizens.

There was much good will and enthusiasm to set a comprehensive plan of action for Northamptonshire and I look forward to following their journey. As I left the wonderful surroundings of the Guildhall I hoped that many more regions will follow Northamptonshire’s determination and leadership  to plan a new era for health and wellbeing.