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Doncaster Council: Shaping Stainforth

This case study forms part of Shaping Places for Healthier Lives, a grant programme funding five council-led partnerships across England to build places that support good health for all. The programme is funded by the Health Foundation, delivered in partnership with the Local Government Association, and supported in delivery and learning by the Design Council and Cordis Bright/PPL. 

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Doncaster Council’s SPHL project aims to make a real difference to the mental health and wellbeing of people in the small town of Stainforth, South Yorkshire. This former mining community is located within the City of Doncaster local authority area and has a population of around 6,000.  

Stainforth has faced challenges in recent decades, partly due to the decline of the mining industry, and is among the 10 per cent most deprived communities in Doncaster. When the ‘Shaping Stainforth’ project was being planned, Stainforth residents were on average more depressed, had lower life satisfaction and a lower sense of self-worth than people in comparable areas of the Yorkshire and the Humber region (Acorn data 2020).  

Community ambitions

Mental health, and many common mental disorders, are shaped to a great extent by the social, economic and physical environments in which people live. The vision for the Shaping Stainforth project is a community where the wider determinants of mental health are enhanced to support better mental health and wellbeing for residents of all ages.  

The core SPHL team is Karen Seaman, Public Health Coordinator; Kerry Lanaghan, Well Doncaster Officer; and two youth apprentices, Lucy Garnham and Grace Bennett: three of them from the Stainforth area. Their existing local connections meant they were able to quickly build trust within the community.  

The team is using an asset-based community development approach to help create a renewed sense of community pride. Living in an active community with a sense of ‘pride in place’ can have a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of residents. Doncaster Council has a track record of working in this way: its wider ‘Well Doncaster’ team provides support to 30 communities across the borough, and having this expertise to draw on has been invaluable for the project team.  

Strong community engagement during the project’s application stage, together with complex systems mapping, identified three themes that would be critical in achieving the goals:  

  • Increased engagement and a stronger voice for local residents.  
  • Stronger connections between community members, groups and organisations.  
  • Greater visibility and celebration of community assets and heritage.  

A broad range of local stakeholders are involved in this work including Stainforth residents, NHS partners, the voluntary, community and faith sector (VCFS) and local businesses. The practical ambitions include addressing some of the wider determinants of mental and physical health and wellbeing, such as:   

  • Enhancing the physical place, with streets and green spaces that are clean, safe and welcoming.  
  • Encouraging active travel and being outdoors.   
  • Bringing all ages together to socialise and enjoy life.   
  • Access to good work in a thriving local economy.  

Not all of this will happen during the three-year SPHL project, but the ambition is to create community momentum to take further work forward in the future.  

Lessons learned

The Shaping Stainforth learning points to date are linked to the particular challenges faced by this town. The project is putting initiatives in place to explore different ways of addressing these challenges. These initiatives are part of a planned programme of activity informed by understanding of the system and the areas where action is needed. The team is working to understand system-wide change resulting from this activity.  

Young people need to see local opportunities    

Many young adults move away from Stainforth to build their lives elsewhere. Shaping Stainforth is looking for opportunities to make the town a better place for children and young people to grow up in and, ultimately, to live and work in.   

For example, in the summer of 2022, Doncaster College hosted a series of weekly sessions for 12-17 year olds on ‘hair and beauty’ and ‘gaming’ (the subjects were chosen in consultation with local schools). Seventeen young people completed the course and were invited to a special event, along with their families, where they were presented with certificates.  

When a Stainforth hairdressing salon expressed an interest in becoming a hair academy, the SPHL team helped with some funding for hair straighteners and training materials – and linked the salon with young people who had attended the college sessions. The salon is now in the process of becoming a community interest company.    

The young apprentices in the SPHL team have been working with Stainforth’s youth club, increasing participation from an average of three people to up to 17. There is now a young people’s steering group and an action plan. Young residents can earn ‘points’ for helping in the community – litter picking or delivering leaflets, for example – which can be exchanged for shopping vouchers.  

Special events can help to build a stronger community   

Recognising the need to build community cohesion, the SPHL team is helping the community to organise special events. A successful family gala-style event took place in summer 2022 in an under-used park. Some funding was provided and the team helped the community to organise the event, with support from local businesses and the town council.  

Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Karen said:

Creating that gala was one of our proudest moments. It really lifted the community and we could see the ‘ripple effect’ from that for a long time.”  

That ‘ripple effect’ was seen in the creation of a new Stainforth events committee, bringing together a committed group of residents to plan a programme of events. The SPHL team is providing practical support – such as helping them to get procedures and policies in place, linking them to useful contacts and helping to set up a bank account. Kerry Lanaghan said: “At some point we will step back to let the community do it for themselves. We would like this to become sustainable as a legacy of the project.”   

Intergenerational connection is critical   

Another challenge identified in planning this project was a ‘disconnect’ between younger and older residents. This leads to an environment of distrust and lack of community cohesion, which does not enhance good mental health.  

One example of the work underway to address this is a project with Doncaster College to capture the voices of the mining generation. Students are recording conversations with former miners about their memories and stories. This will be developed into a lasting resource and has provided a positive opportunity for intergenerational work.   

In response to a request from older residents, the SPHL team organised a trip to the annual miners’ family gala, which provided another opportunity for connection between generations. In 2023 they will support the community to arrange this trip themselves.  

Community-based support can relieve pressure on mental health services 

Poor mental health is a significant issue in Stainforth, and the team has built a strong relationship with the GP surgery to explore ways of helping patients. This included spending some time shadowing the busy mental health practitioner.   

From a complex systems point of view, the ultimate aim is to change how mental health issues are tackled locally by shifting the focus from acute services to upstream prevention and community work (while still supporting people who need services). This is long-term change that will involve a range of partners and is at an early stage.  

The team is exploring what might work through a mental health support network, bringing partners together to identify themes. Mind was commissioned to deliver weekly peer-support sessions in a community venue. Although participation has been low, those attending have valued the sessions. Another organisation is delivering one-to-one mentoring sessions to support mental health and wellbeing for school pupils.  

Kerry said:

Our challenge at the moment is trying to get wider partners engaged with putting on different activities. Moving forward, we are focusing on how we make systems change with mental health support from a community perspective.” 

Next steps

The next steps are to review and update the systems map, created in the project’s planning stages, and prioritise which actions will make the biggest change.

Kerry said: “There are some passionate residents who really want to make a change within the community. Our role is to support them in doing that and introduce them to partners and services that can help. Until now, that has been the missing link.”  

There are already signs of change: the team have noticed a shift in attitudes and perceptions, with people becoming more positive about Stainforth.

Karen said:

It’s about creating long-term change, not just one-off initiatives. As a team we have a tendency to want to do everything. We have identified through our coaching conversations that we need to streamline our focus more.”    

The lessons learnt from Shaping Stainforth will ultimately be used to inform other work across Doncaster, beginning with three other identified priority areas, creating ongoing sustainable change in local communities. 


For further information contact Karen Seaman, Public Health Coordinator: [email protected] or Kerry Lanaghan, Well Doncaster Officer: [email protected]