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Case Study

Active Communities programme evaluation

Client: People’s Health Trust | Sectors: Social Policy

Active Communities Evaluation finds the programme boosted social connections, improved confidence, and supported projects that met local needs and aspirations

People’s Health Trust established Active Communities in 2012 as a demand-led programme targeted at neighbourhoods in England, Scotland, and Wales, which disproportionately experience social and economic disadvantage and health inequalities. Active Communities grants fund a variety of activities and actions that address issues that are important to participants and bring social benefits. Examples include wellbeing, creative, community and campaigning activities designed to make life locally even better. Our third evaluation of the programme aimed to contribute to the evidence base and show how the Trust could further improve the programme and practice. 

Our findings and the range of outputs produced met the evaluation aims. They show how the programme has supported people to come together and boost social connections, with the project activities being a key source of social interaction for participants. Evidence suggests that projects were successful in reaching people who were or had been previously socially isolated. Project lead survey respondents rated the outcomes of ‘increased friendships and social connectedness’ and ‘reductions in social isolation’ as 96% and 91% ‘high’ or ‘complete’ achievements, respectively (n = 216). A survey of participants supported these findings: 69% ‘strongly agreed’ and 30% ‘agreed’ that they were meeting new people as a result of the project (n=359) and getting out and about more as a result of taking part in a project in their area (n=350): 55% ‘strongly agree’; 35% ‘agree’. The case study reports explain how local people commonly developed a sense of ownership over the design and direction of projects, influencing project outcomes through interactive conversations and volunteering opportunities. 

The evaluation required us to develop a more in-depth understanding of how projects achieved these changes. Projects were most successful when they provided a range of ways for people to get involved, supported people to come together, take ownership of important issues, and take action to meet local needs. Leaders and/or trusted adults were essential, helping people to shape and lead projects, planting and encouraging ideas and putting support in place. This sort of leadership worked best when the leaders were themselves ‘from the community’. Developing a ‘culture of participation’ helped to nurture a sense among participants that the project served a greater purpose, as well as feelings and pride in being useful and having a say. 

We learnt that Active Communities projects have made a strong contribution to the development of individuals’ confidence, knowledge, skills, and assets and self-confidence was a ‘gateway’ outcome that enabled other successes. Project leads believed the projects had made a large contribution towards ‘increases in self-confidence’ and ‘increased confidence to speak up’ among participants, to a large or full extent (92% and 85% of respondents respectively). After joining the project, most respondents to the resident survey ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ (84%) that they felt more confident.

The case study videos share some of  the moving examples of life-changing benefits we found, and importantly for the Trust, we have learned that even moderate engagement with projects (1-2 hours per week) is likely to provide substantial benefits. However, evidence regarding achievement of the longer-term changes (for instance, addressing social determinants of health) was less forthcoming in the evaluation timeframe. 

Part of the evaluation brief was to provide the Trust with recommendations for improving the programme and practice. We suggested that the focus on supporting projects to understand the aims of the programme, and to provide capacity-building support for local leaders and facilitators should continue. Alongside this, new learning materials would help projects to reflect on how they might achieve improvements in the social determinants of health to build a stronger influence in local and national-level discourse around this problem.

The report is based on data from: surveys of project leads and project participants; analysis of the Trust’s grant monitoring database and project monitoring forms; interviews and focus groups carried out during two waves of case study research with 12 Active Communities projects; and a small number of stakeholder interviews. We produced a series of project case study reports and worked with a videographer to create videos of three projects

The published report, accompany project case studies and videos are available on the Trust’s website 

David Jones, Director of Grants at People’s Health Trust, said:

“We know that access to strong social support structures protects our health and increases the likelihood of a long and healthy life. Following this four-year evaluation working with Ecorys UK, evidence that our Active Communities programme facilitates social connectedness is stronger than ever and the evidence suggests that improved social connection is possible even with one to two hours each week. We will be reviewing the recommendations of the evaluation so that we can make the funding programme even stronger and support our funded partners to have an influence around the social determinants of health.”

Key Experts

Rachel Blades Associate Director