What is the Community Spirit Programme?

RSPH was supported by The Health Foundation to develop and test a ‘Community Spirit Level’ tool with six communities across the UK. Through interviews, research and collaboration with community groups, we explored what underpins strong and healthy communities.

In collaboration with Locality, we developed an evidence-based toolkit, the Community Spirit Level, which can be used by community organisations, local authorities, and anyone with an interest in improving the health and wellbeing of their local area. It includes step-by-step guidance on:

  • Engaging with your community to reflect on, and measure, the community spirit in your area
  • Collecting evidence on the community spirit in your area, including how to conduct focus groups and surveys
  • Mapping your community’s assets and key stakeholders
  • Developing and managing an action plan to improve your area’s community spirit
  • Keeping people informed and engaged with your project

Why is community spirit important?

Communities and social networks have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing. Strong social relationships can even help people survive life-threatening illnesses, while being without them can lead to chronic loneliness, poor mental health, and long-term damage to physiological health.

Strong community spirit can also help address health inequalities. In areas affected by poverty and other forms of social disadvantage, strong and supportive relationships have been found to be a buffer against worse health outcomes. However, in the UK, community spirit seems to be weakest in the most deprived areas. The 2010 Marmot Review revealed that around 25% of people living in the most deprived area of England are without any social support, compared to just 12% in the least deprived areas.

What policies would improve community spirit?

In our report, Socially Distant: Community Spirit in the Age of Covid-19, we present the findings from a poll of 2,000 members of the public about how the first lockdown in 2020 affected their area’s community spirit. We found that while there was an increase in many measures of belonging, collective action, and quality of relationships, the rise in community spirit was unevenly spread across social classes and different geographies.

Covid-19 also appears to have frayed the social fabric as our poll found high levels of distrust around adherence to Government guidance and hygiene measures. Many people also felt that lockdown’s impact on their mental health had also affected their relationships.

Drawing on our work with six community organisations and a poll of the public, our report makes a series of policy recommendations to distribute the benefits of increased community spirit to where it is most needed:

  • More investment in green spaces, like community gardens and play parks, to be used for activities and socialising.
  • Public sector institutions, like local councils and schools, to purchase goods and services from local businesses to stimulate the area’s economy.
  • Setting up community hubs to provide activities and services focused on health and wellbeing.