Bracknell Forest Council: engaging community groups and clubs

Bracknell Forest Council has built on its involvement with the national Self Care Week by running a Year of Self Care and then setting up a community-wide network of clubs and groups that is seeing thousands of local people taking part in activities and looking after their health and wellbeing. This forms part of our resource on self care.


The challenge

Bracknell Forest was one of the first councils to embrace the national Self Care Week concept. It got involved in 2012. By the third year, events were being organised at more than 100 locations, including GP surgeries, children’s centres, cafes and the local leisure centre.

There were a whole host of free events from Zumba and boxercise to organised walks. In total, 700 people got involved in 2014, but the council decided it wanted to do more.

The solution

Working with the local clinical commissioning group, the Berkshire-based council replace a week of self care with a whole year. The idea was to create a theme for each month. The topics covered were:

  • introduction to self care (January)
  • mental wellbeing (February)
  • healthy ageing (March)
  • physical activity (April)
  • eating and drinking (May)
  • carer wellbeing (June)
  • learning and volunteering (July)
  • children and families (August)
  • workplace health (September) 
  • quitting smoking (October)
  • winter wellbeing (November)
  • sharing success (December).

The Year of Self Care was promoted via a dedicated website and on social media. The council’s public health team arranged events as they did during previous Self Care Weeks, but the focus was very much an asset-based one involving working with existing community groups and clubs. The year-long celebration was repeated in 2017.

Council Public Health Consultant Dr Lisa McNally said: “The two years were incredibly successful. It helped us develop really good links with the community and that in turn evolved into what became known as the Warm Welcome programme.”

The programme is essentially a network of local clubs and activities run by local people. They include everything from running clubs and organised walks to choirs and chess clubs. The groups are promoted on a dedicated website, while the council has run Community Expos to highlight what is available.

All the groups that join are assessed and vetted, before being promoted. As well as self-referral through the website, the groups are also put on the list for the social prescribing service to refer people on to.

The impact

Since the network started being developed, it has gone from strength-to-strength. There are now over 400 different groups that are part of it.

One of those is Fit for All, run by Deborah Miller. She said the support provided by the council was “wonderful”. She recently attended a Community Expo and said it was a “fantastic” event. “I spoke to a number of groups I didn’t know existed. It was great to see what was going on.”

Dr McNally said building connections like this has been an important reason for Bracknell’s success. She added: “Tens of thousands of people are now getting active – both physically and mentally – and socialising because of the way the local community has been linked in. This is having a tremendous impact on people.”

Official figures support this. Data from Sport England show that the number of physically active adults has risen by over a quarter, while those reporting they have enough social contact is also climbing, according to the Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework.

Lessons learned

Dr McNally said working with these local groups is a very different proposition than the normal commissioner-provider relationship councils traditionally have.

“We are not funding them – apart from a little seed money here and there – but we do support them in other ways. What we have learned is that the thing they most want and need is promotion. They do not have the time or reach to promote themselves so we have done that for them on social media and online.

“You need to think carefully how you do this. For example, we had a dad’s crèche group, ‘Who Let the Dads Out?’, which we promoted on Facebook.

How is the approach being sustained?

The council has recognised that, for all its success with the Warm Welcome network, there are some groups that often miss out on information about the programme. These include older people and adults with learning disabilities who may not always find the internet accessible.

Bracknell Forest is now in the process of bidding for funding from the Social Care Digital Innovation Project run by the LGA and NHS Digital. It is hoping to get funding to pay for kiosks to be installed around the area allowing people to search for events close to them. There will also be an app that has been designed to be user-friendly for these groups.

Beyond that, the team is increasingly looking to work with the wider Frimley Health and Care Integrated Care System.

Dr McNally said: “Prevention is a key part of that work, but it is not something that many of these sustainability and transformation partnership (STP) areas have really got to grips with yet. We ran a public health social media campaign across the five councils and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the Frimley Health system in August promoting the benefits of physical activity. This is something we want to do more of.”

Contact details

Dr Lisa McNally
Director of Public Health Bracknell Forest Council

lisa.mcnally@bracknell-forest.gov.uk