Samir Singh has worked on community development projects for Arsenal in the Community – the community delivery arm of Arsenal Football Club – since 2006. He is working at What Works Wellbeing on secondment as a Clore Social Leadership Fellow, with a research focus on community wellbeing.
Now five weeks into my research at What Works Centre for Wellbeing, the time I have been afforded to step back, think about and reflect on my community-based work has been invaluable.
I am working on two distinct projects. Firstly to answer the question: “How can, and why should, Arsenal in the Community measure wellbeing?”
Secondly, I am speaking to the voluntary and community sector in Islington to find out if they consider themselves to be delivering wellbeing outcomes, even if they are not currently measuring them.
It’s an exciting time to be a part of this: the work of the Centre is rapidly evolving and the first batch of evidence from the research teams is about to be published. I have approached the secondment with an open mind; eager to learn about wellbeing, but remaining rooted in practice.
My focus is always on how a wellbeing approach can be relevant to real life for those working on the ground in the third sector. So far, there are elements that I remain sceptical about but there is far more that is very much applicable to community programmes. A real strength of a holistic outcomes approach, as opposed to narrow traditional outputs, is that any organisation can choose what is most relevant to their field of work or local community.
Because the work of Football in the Community focuses on our local area, I have become most comfortable with thinking about ‘community wellbeing’, as opposed to focussing on individuals.
Our local area – Islington – has very low wellbeing scores. This is further complicated by inner London polarity where, like wealth and health inequalities, a low wellbeing score will presumably be an average of some of the highest and lowest in the country. It is quite likely that many of the participants on our programmes will have low wellbeing scores. This shows that we are working with exactly the right communities and if we can help to impact on inequalities (in wellbeing), we are doing the right thing and moreover, contributing to Islington’s approach to fairness.
What has been a real revelation so far is that we have not been measuring what we actually do.
The RSA Connected Communities report tells us the variable most connected with higher wellbeing is feeling part of the community. This is in our name, Arsenal in the Community, yet we are not measuring our impact on connection to the community. ‘A sense of belonging’ is our mission statement, but we don’t measure our impact on this. The reason being is that it has almost been taken for granted that our projects, e.g. improving literacy, will lead to increased wellbeing.
Nor have we really been aware that a wellbeing approach is something that you can actually can measure. Much of the success of our work is based around positive relationships – for example, with our football coach/youth workers on estates – but, again, we are not measuring these.
Measuring wellbeing is also something that will help us to tell our story as well as offer better evidence of our impact. Because the Office of National Statistics questions are based on what really matters to people, I believe our fans will understand our work and approach better if it is framed like this.
Currently, they know that Arsenal Football Club delivers community projects, but to explain their impact in terms of wellbeing will resonate. Community wellbeing outcomes (e.g. creating a sense of belonging) as opposed to an individual approach is something that fans will get. Our work off the pitch, just like when it goes right on the pitch, can lift the whole community.
There are many ways to measure impact out there and the vast choice is often part of the block to doing this in the first place. However, a wellbeing approach ticks many boxes for Arsenal in the Community.