Stroud District Council has launched a healthy lifestyle programme for the over 50s. It has led to a series of events being held, including walking football and walking netball. Dementia-friendly training is also being rolled out, while plans are in place to create a network of community champions to build on the momentum created so far. This case study shows how district councils have improved the health of their local areas.
By 2035 the district of Stroud is projected to have the oldest population in Gloucestershire. There are currently around 115,000 living in the district of which around one in four are aged over 65. The numbers have increased by a quarter in the past 10 years, but over the next 20 years that increase is projected to accelerate rapidly, rising by nearly 700 per cent.
As people live longer, more are living with multiple long-term conditions like diabetes, dementia and respiratory conditions. While this is a challenge to health and care services, there is a drive to help people selfmanage their conditions, live well and stay active in their communities.
Stroud is relatively affluent. It is among the fifth least deprived areas in England – although one in 10 families still live in low-income households. The gap in life expectancy is six years between the least and most deprived groups.
Highlights of progress
The council launched an Older Person’s Health and Housing Plan in the spring of 2017. The aim of the plan was to bring together existing programmes and act as a launch pad for new ones.
Ten priority areas were identified including enabling people to be active, decreasing social isolation and helping people live well with frailty and long-term conditions like dementia.
After it was published, one of the first steps taken was the creation of the Active for Life project. It has been aimed at the over 50s and has seen a rolling programme of activity taster sessions run in different parts of the county.
The first was held in the town of Stroud and saw residents given the opportunity to try out various walking activities and fitness classes for free.
One year on regular walking football, walking rugby and walking netball sessions are now run in partnership with governing bodies such as the Football Association. After trying taster activities, attendees have taken up memberships of the local leisure centre and joined a variety of new classes.
The following year the council widened the Active for Life day to children and families and next year will run it in rural leisure centres across the district. One priority for the council is supporting strength and fitness in older adults to prevent falls. A qualified instructor is employed to deliver seven Better Balance classes in community venues, retirement villages and care homes across the district.
Residents can self-refer, but GPs and physios also refer patients who they feel might be at risk of falling or those who have had a fall and have completed the NHS post-fall physio course. The classes help build and maintain strength to prevent future falls and keep people moving independently.
Meanwhile, Stroud has helped Gloucestershire County Council’s Adult Social Care to disseminate Thriving Communities funding to support local voluntary sector organisations to develop community support for vulnerable groups. Thirteen projects have been funded, including dementia-friendly walks and a weekly friendship day in a community centre, which involves lunch and a pop-up chiropody clinic.
Health and Wellbeing Coordinator Emma Keating Clark said the work is having an impact. “Our ageing population is both a challenge and blessing. We have a huge resource of motivated older residents who want to make a difference in their community. We are trying to make it easier for people to be active, meet other people and get involved with neighbours in their local area.”
Stroud wants to build on what it has done so far to create a dementia-friendly community. Ms Keating Clark has been trained to provide dementia-friendly training and has started offering this to local businesses, members of the public and council staff. The 90-minute sessions teach people about the impacts of dementia and ways to be supportive.
Over 60 people have had the training already, but Ms Keating Clark is planning to expand this by holding one training session a month. “Some of it is just about taking simple steps, like knowing how to communicate calmly and positively and having quiet spaces where people can sit if they become agitated.
“We’re also supporting volunteers who want to set up memory cafes, singing groups and nature walks to help people living with dementia and their carers. We’re aiming for each town to develop their own dementia friendly volunteers to take positive action for their community. This work, along with our other wellbeing activities, helps people living with dementia and a host of other conditions.”
Meanwhile, Stroud has been given £43,000 funding by the local Sustainability and Transformation Programme to run an asset based project over the next two years. The scheme is focused on a small neighbourhood with high health inequalities in Forest Green. The aim is to skill up residents to tackle the issues they have identified and create a healthier, more connected community.
Ms Keating Clark said: “We have literally knocked on every door to find out what the local issues are and who is passionate about the area. We’ll train them up in ‘community organising’ and they will create their own change. It might be social and physical activities, something to tackle loneliness or anti-social behaviour – we’ll see what comes out of our door-knocking interviews.”
Key messages and learning
Ms Keating Clark said it was important to be realistic about what local government can do. “The cuts in funding over the years mean there is a limit to what councils can commit in terms of time and money. That is why partnership working is so important. I think districts can really help unlock this. We are close to the communities we serve.”
To help achieve this, Ms Keating Clark runs the Stroud Health and Wellbeing Partnership. It has 190 members from across the voluntary, community and statutory sectors, including local GPs and adult social care.
The council has hosted networking events to allow members to mix and meet health and social care staff. “It has been designed to help professionals make connections with each other so they know where they can refer people on to. It operates like a speed-dating event and has worked really well,” added Ms Keating Clark.
Emma Keating Clark
Health and Wellbeing Coordinator
Stroud District Council email@example.com