The Healthy Stevenage Strategy provides a comprehensive and ambitious approach to improving health and wellbeing in the town. It has been created through collaboration with Hertfordshire County Council, the local NHS and Hertfordshire and West Essex STP.
The Healthy Stevenage Strategy provides a comprehensive and ambitious approach to improving health and wellbeing in the town. It has been created through collaboration with Hertfordshire County Council, the local NHS and Hertfordshire and West Essex STP. It is a strong example of a district (borough) council taking its public health role seriously, with endorsement from the Director of Public Health in Hertfordshire as well as key portfolio holders at the council.
Stevenage was designated as the first post-war New Town to be built in 1946, and has always been one of the lowest areas in Hertfordshire in terms of health indicators.
In terms of Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), Stevenage overall is ranked 117th out of 317 authorities (133 in 2015) and in health specifically it is ranked 152nd. Bedwell and Bandley Hill are within the 20 per cent most deprived wards in the country, and Shephall is within the 30 per cent most deprived. Around 16 per cent (2,855) of children live in low income families in Stevenage.
According to the ONS the population of Stevenage is currently 86,000 and projections indicate a growth of 17,500 by 2039, representing a 20 per cent increase. It is expected that the majority of this growth will be in the 60-90 age group meaning there will be a greater need for health and social care for the town’s ageing population, and thus placing strain on the services of the council and NHS.
The health of people in Stevenage is varied, and there are some stubborn health inequalities that are widespread across the town, for example:
- Life expectancy for women is lower than the England average.
- Life expectancy is 4.8 years lower for men in the most deprived areas of Stevenage than in the least deprived areas.
- In Year 6, 19.6 per cent of children are classified as obese.
- Estimated levels of physically active adults (aged 19+) are worse than the England average.
The aim of the Healthy Stevenage Strategy is to focus on the areas of greatest need to reduce health inequalities so that all residents have access to services and are supported to make healthier choices wherever possible.
The Healthy Stevenage Strategy was launched in 2016 with the vision to reduce health inequalities and improve the health and wellbeing of Stevenage residents. The strategy is due to be revised this year, however it currently focuses on the following 4 key public health areas:
1. Health improvement – including reducing childhood obesity, increase physical activity rates and support good mental health and wellbeing.
2. Health promotion – including communication with local residents and promoting key public health messages and campaigns.
3. Health protection – including providing access to parks and open spaces.
4. Health inequalities – providing housing, spaces and rengeneration of the town.
The strategy has allowed the council to link to wider strategic objectives (including the £1 billion regeneration of the town, the subject of a previous LGA case study), link health outcomes to all departments such as Environmental Health, Planning, and Community Safety, clearly outline their priorities and deliver a range of work in partnership such as:
- Leading whole systems obesity projects as 1 of 2 districts in Hertfordshire – looking at the place, and through community engagement understanding what it is about the place that makes it a barrier and co-producing solutions where possible.
- Specific work in the Bedwell and Shephall areas of the town, where physical activity rates are low, and obesity is high, working with the Active Partnership on their Active Local programme to reduce inactivity in the most deprived wards. A number of VCSEs have been able to secure funding and more partnerships working in a place-based locally centered area.
- Embedding work within the leisure contract core offer currently held by SLL. This includes a young people’s healthy hub and adult healthy hub to provide a single point of access for physical activity, mental health and lifestyle related needs. Empower - Watford FC Community Sports & Education Trust (watfordfccsetrust.com).
- Work in specific sports and activities e.g. working with Basketball England, Hertfordshire Basketball Association and local clubs to focus on the development of basketball in Stevenage. There is now an annual programme with free sessions delivered by a coach.
- Working with the Population Health Management (PHM) agenda on a Public Health project, Place-based Health Inequalities. This brings 3 year funding from Public Health to focus on children’s and young people’s mental health, obesity and dementia.
The strategy has been a key vehicle in galvanizing partnerships and collaboration, with internal departments and externally Public Health and the VCSO sector. For example, when the council identify a funding opportunity they are able to see which partner could work best and engage with them, encouraging and supporting them to go forward with a funding bid.
The Borough Council have been working with the National Institute for Health and Care Research to support them with evaluating evidence, this is unique to Stevenage and has helped them secure external funding and work across teams internally and externally.
An impact report is produced for the strategy itself together with individual programme impact reports and demonstrates to partners and other stakeholders the benefit of this work to the population of the town.
Due to the existence of the strategy the council have been a member of the Integrated Care Board even prior to the recent changes, and that has brought exposure to patient feedback, patient liaison groups and work with GP practice managers closely. Opportunities can be advertised on digital screens within surgeries from a range of partners including MIND and different organisations able to support patients.
Not only has the strategy enabled the council internally to foster a one team approach (one of the core values of the organization), it has also allowed them to identify strong VCSE partners and other organisations within Stevenage that could work together on specific agendas. It has also given a voice to the community and through the engagement work, the community can see that the council are responding to what they are telling them.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The strategy is currently being updated and the council feel they have worked hard to reach a strong position in this work through their many positive partnerships and relationships, in order to be at the forefront of the Integrated Care Partnership. Having a robust understanding of what the new structures will mean moving forward and the role that the council can play is vital.
Working with the National Institute of Health and Care Research should ensure that evaluation of impact is strong, based on academic research and will serve this work well over the coming years.
SBC have been supported to secure external funding for another Leisure and Health Development Officer with a Public Health background, this is a shift from previous roles which were more steered towards community sport and leisure.
New areas of work are being developed in the town, for example:
- Exploring the concept of 20 minute neighbourhoods and the Cooperative Neighbourhoods Agenda at SBC which is enabling SLT to meet with Public Health and discuss how to embed Health Impact Assessments into the revised local plans.
- Suicide prevention (focused primarily on Stevenage railway station) working with the British Transport Police, Public Health and the Samaritans, and sport, leisure and diversionary activities play a key role.
- Consideration of how health and wellbeing can be furthered through the significant regeneration work taking place in Stevenage.
Going forward the strategy will be far more robust and in line with Public Health policies e.g. food poverty/insecurity, obesity, responding to the mental health crisis, but SBC are in a strong position to turn around some of these health indicators, and be able to evidence this.
- The importance of maintaining good partnerships and continually talking to partners.
- Balancing passion for the work with the capacity of the council. SBC recognize that they can’t solve everything and so collaborating across teams has been vital.
- The need to understand and report impact and always seeking improvements in how this is done, for example investing in videos, using external providers for digital and visual material, and regularly interviewing residents to ask their views.
- Staff wellbeing – understanding the pressures that everyone has been through (pandemic) – and the challenges and changes ahead e.g. a new way of working, new health and wellbeing structures, Integrated Care, leisure centres and their potential, and understanding where compassionate leadership fits in to this.
- Challenging the status quo of the sporting landscape – where it can go in future and how sport can be developed in the Borough, recognising the impact that sports development activities and existing/new clubs locally can have on the health of residents.
Candice Bryan, Health and Sports Strategy Manager