By Matthew Morgan, Director, Quality of Life Foundation

Originally published on The MJ, 28 September 2022

Predictions for the year ahead?

After what the country’s been through over the past decade – from austerity to Brexit, the pandemic to the energy crisis and the death of Queen Elizabeth II, not to mention the never-ending churn in central government – it would be a brave pundit who can say what’s going to happen next week, let alone next year.

When you’re lurching from one crisis to another, it can be difficult to take a more long-term view. But the truth is that to tackle the severe challenges we face, we must look beyond the next week, year or even decade, and start to make decisions based on long-term outcomes for everyone.

If that sounds daunting, the good news is that it’s an approach that you can start to put into action today.

The Healthy City report, recently published by Key Cities, takes a long-term view of the profound changes our cities will undergo, forming a vision for what cities should look like in 30 years’ time. The report identifies climate change; economic and technological change; inequity and social justice as the three greatest challenges. It argues that to overcome all of these challenges and to reach their potential, cities should have a laser-like focus on improving the mental, physical and social health of their residents.

This ‘Health First’ principle is fundamental because a healthier population will ultimately inspire innovation, closer communities and better economic outcomes. Our future health is reliant on the health of others and the health of our local and wider natural world and its ecosystems. Moreover, it is implicit in the Government’s levelling-up agenda, with the acceptance of the importance of wellbeing and life expectancy as key measures for the success of a place. 

And it is an approach that has worked. The Mini Holland schemes introduced in Kingston, Enfield and Waltham Forest in London, designed to reduce car use by increasing walking and cycling, have been estimated to bring £724m in health benefits. Clean Air Zones, implemented in cities such as Birmingham and Bath, are showing signs of improvement to air quality. And through its position as a Marmot City, Coventry has shown how stakeholders joining forces across the city can provide the drive that’s needed to improve health outcomes and life satisfaction

At the Quality of Life Foundation, we have been gathering evidence on what affects people’s health and wellbeing and delivering services to local government, developers and housing associations to help embed a health-and-wellbeing approach in their work. Understanding the relationships between health and place and how to work together more collectively can reap significant benefits – not just in people’s health and wellbeing, but in improved economic, social and environmental outcomes for all. 

Our work now includes Mapping Quality of Life for Harlow & Gilston Garden Town – a DLUHC-funded project that creates a baseline for social value that the local authorities can use to determine the health and wellbeing effects of policy and development over the years to come. We speak to local people about what matters to them, then combine that qualitative data about their lived experience with quantitative data gathered from local and national sources. All of this can be mapped to provide a local view of what people value and need. 

And this autumn we are launching training for local authorities that will deliver a health-and-wellbeing approach across their areas. This will provide a way for Chief Executives to take a clear lead in health and place, and give their teams a better understanding of the links between health, wellbeing and the built environment, and ways to act together to improve their local area. The programme helps deliver better health and wellbeing outcomes and fosters a collaborative approach across departments (i.e. executive, planning, public health, housing and highways).

If you are interested in putting health first then get in touch

I might not be able to predict what’s going to happen in the next few weeks and months. But one thing’s for certain: the long term is here to stay.