Improving Public Health through our Public Places

Here, Lauren Pennycook, Policy Officer, Carnegie UK Trust talks about the Place Standard tool and how our public places impact our wellbeing.

‘Health is something that is created by people within the everyday settings of their life’, according to former Chief Medical Officer for Scotland Sir Harry Burns. But are the places we live in actually designed to promote good health and actively reduce heath inequalities in our communities? And how can we assess if our public spaces are contributing to our individual and community wellbeing?
The Scottish Government, Architecture and Design Scotland and NHS Health Scotland have been working in partnership to address how we can put our public spaces to the test, by developing the new Place Standard tool. The aim of the Place Standard tool is to support the delivery of high quality public spaces and to maximise the potential of the physical and social structures in our communities to promote good health, wellbeing and a good quality of life. The tool asks users to answer questions around key themes such as access to greenspace, housing, and availability of areas for play and recreation to help map out how well our communities are currently designed to promote public health. But as well as looking back, the tool allows users to look forward and identify areas for development in their communities.
At the Carnegie UK Trust, we were keen to ensure that the tool was accessible to community groups, in line with our century-long commitment to improving the availability and nature of public spaces for the benefit of individuals and communities. To that end we agreed this summer to pilot the tool with three of the Scottish winners of our Carnegie Prize for Design and Wellbeing. With the help of expert researchers Blake Stevenson Ltd we tested and evaluated the tool with the award-winning groups in Auchencairn,Greenock, and Kirkcaldy. This process enabled us to gather feedback on the content and usability of the tool, and also to catch up with how the projects have developed since last year. The exercise also helped the groups to identify what improvements could be made to their local areas to help reduce health inequalities and improve quality of life.
At Belville Community Garden in Greenock, the tool highlighted that more seating would be welcome to encourage older people to visit the garden, and that access to the garden for younger children could be improved by a safe crossing point from a busy road. In Kirkcaldy, the Pathhead Street Design project found that the tool helped to shine a light on the fact that the space could be used to encourage more social interaction between residents – with the help of more seats, a café or even just a community noticeboard. In reflecting on how far the project had come, one participant raised the fact that that the tool would have been useful at the beginning of the development process, noting ‘we would have probably have eventually reached the same set of actions but we would have done so in a more planned way’.
2016 sees the Scottish Government celebrate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design and in all likelihood will see the implementation of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act – both of which present an opportunity for communities across the country to embrace the Place Standard tool and work with developers and local councils to improve public health and wellbeing through public design. The tool is not designed to set up a league table of communities across Scotland or to help communities to create a list of demands of their local council a time when the public sector must do less with fewer resources. Instead, it is designed to be an empowering conversation starter across sectors and community demographics to identify what can be improved for the wellbeing of all. Because, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has observed, ‘people make places… [a public space] only comes into being when it is activated by the presence of people’.
Re-posted from the Carnegie Trust UK blog

How a wellbeing measure can improve policy-making for teens

NPC’s paper, That awkward age, analyses wellbeing data for over 8,000 children in the UK aged 10-17, collected by more than 100 charities and schools over four years between 2011-2015.

It finds that:

  • Girls are less happy than boys: 1 in 4 boys (26%), and 1 in 3 girls (35%), report their overall wellbeing as average or lower
  • Wellbeing falls as children get older: This fall is steepest between 13-14yrs and 16-17yrs. It is also steeper for girls than boys
  • Boys don’t cry—but girls report crying more as they get older: More than half girls say they ‘cry a lot’ by age 15 (53%). Only 14% boys by age 15 say the same
  • Children’s resilience is essential : Children’s resilience—‘the capacity to cope with stress and difficulties’—becomes more important with age, as the older they get the more closely it is associated with their overall wellbeing

→ Download That Awkward Age report

Here Dan Corry, NPC’s Chief Executive blogs on how this wellbeing measure can improve policy-making for teens.



National wellbeing isn’t about to reach the political status of GDP, but its importance to ministers and decision-makers has grown substantially in recent years.

It was a focus for the Coalition government (even if it faded from view as time went on), and ambitious projects have sprung up in the form of The What Works Centre for Wellbeing (of which I am a trustee) and think tank programmes at the New Economics Foundation (nef) and Nesta.

I am proud that NPC can add a new resource. In our report last month, That awkward age, we analysed data from our academically-validated, on-line tool that measures the wellbeing of young people. This easy to use tool has now been used by more than 100 schools and charities, in the process collecting anonymised information on over 8,000 children. The measure has been designed to help institutions gather clear evidence about the quality of their interventions, in the belief that only with stronger evidence can charities develop the most effective programmes to help the people with whom they work.

The measure also gives us a baseline from which we can compare the wellbeing of children at different ages between 10 and 17. Crucially it gives some insight, too, into what factors most affect wellbeing, from relationships with friends to trouble at school.

The broad findings in That awkward age aren’t necessarily that surprising, even if they are a little dispiriting.

While the majority of children report that they are happy, a sizeable chunk say they experience below average wellbeing (1 in 4 boys and 1 in 3 girls). The wellbeing of both boys and girls drops as they grow older, with a much steeper fall experienced by girls. The ‘crunch times’, at which well-being falls most sharply for both sexes, are between ages 13-14 and 16-17.

The factors which have the greatest impact on wellbeing are relations with family, a young person’s self-esteem, and their resilience (that is, their ability to bounce back from adversity).

Relations with friends are also very important, and this is where it is worth digging more deeply into the numbers. For most young people, there isn’t anything that dramatic here. The aggregate data shows that children grow less satisfied with their friends as they get older, but the fall isn’t that precipitous. Equally, while friendships become more important to their overall wellbeing as children get older, for most this is only by a bit.

But hidden away is a small group of teenage girls for whom broken friendships are disastrous. About 1 in 10 of the 15 year-olds who report falling out with friends also report low overall wellbeing. This isn’t a group who just go through a rocky patch: when they lose friends it coincides with a serious fall in how they feel about their lives.

This poses an interesting challenge to all policy makers and (NPC’s particular interest) to many charities. Resources are increasingly thin all round and especially in the voluntary sector, which will shoulder much of the burden for understanding and improving well-being. So tough decisions lie ahead. Should charities who care about wellbeing be working with all children across the board, or concentrating their efforts on the smaller groups who seem to be at greater risk of unhappiness? Should they intervene early on—with all the complexity that early intervention can entail—or focus on relieving problems now for teenagers who are already in distress?

The emergence of wellbeing as a measurable concept has many steps to go. There are still methodologies to be established, data sets to be built-up, hurdles to interpretation to be surmounted. But efforts to put in the right foundations is underway, and work we have undertaken at NPC shows how it opens up important new questions, gives new insights and poses new problems and opportunities for policy makers.


Culture, museums and wellbeing

art gallery
Our evidence programme on Culture and Sport will help us to understand how we can improve wellbeing through cultural and sporting activities – involvement in music, visual arts, our leisure, heritage and physical activities.

→case study: If: Volunteering for wellbeing in the heritage sector 

There is a lot of interest in this area. Here are a few organisations and upcoming events:

→ Find out what they are doing – AESOP’s Dance to Health case study

 There a11059740_1616805768536236_8313541979095342044_nre thousands of museums for art and science around the world, but not one Museum of Happiness. We’d like to see museums where children and adults can enjoy and explore the art and science of happiness.

Shamash Aldina, co-founder Museum of Happiness

  book here 



Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2016 replace 2015 concept on the sea beach

Like our resolutions, wellbeing is often dominated by health and fitness. There’s more to it than that.

look after your wellbeing in your resolutions with the evidence based 5 ways to Wellbeing and 10 steps to Happier Living.

It is also a time to look forward to what we want to achieve in the new year. In the next few weeks we will be

Looking forward to working with you to improve wellbeing in the UK.

The What Works Wellbeing team

→2015 review