Gez Kallaghan, Peabody’s Local Area Plan Manager for Greenwich and Bexley, discusses the work being done to improve health and well-being for people in Thamesmead and shares what’s in store for 2023.
New Year is a fresh start for many of us, marked with the usual wishes of good health and significant pressure to join a gym!
For Peabody colleagues, creating healthier, wealthier and happier communities is fundamental to everything we do, all year round. Working with residents to improve their health and well-being is an important part of this.
Our work in Thamesmead is a great example of how we’re supporting people to lead healthier lives. There are longstanding health inequalities here which worsened during the pandemic. Helping people overcome poor health has never been more important – whether we’re delivering our own programmes, signposting people to targeted support, or working with partners to ensure people can access relevant services.
Getting people involved in enjoyable activities on a regular basis is key to them developing lasting healthy habits. Our cycle hub, for example, gives individuals and families the opportunity to ride around the town’s remarkable green spaces; our regular walks led by Mason Mile and volunteers encourage residents to come together for a sociable one-mile stroll, while our support for a local football group through our Community Fund is benefiting 100+ participants each week. All in all, we supported more than 660 customers participating in health-related activities in 2021/22.
Despite the popularity of these interventions, they are not for everyone. People with the poorest health outcomes often face complex socio-economic problems. And they need significant support to overcome the many barriers to them leading physically and/or mentally healthier lives. Our Positive Steps Thamesmead programme, supported by VINCI Facilities, aims to help people facing major issues by helping address the root causes of their problems. In 2021/22, we referred over 320 local people to partner organisations providing advice on immigration, debt, housing, domestic violence, and emergency support.
The results have been encouraging, with 80% of people saying the programme helped them. Positive Steps Thamesmead has also had a wider impact, relieving pressure on oversubscribed GP services, enabling local partners to deliver more support, and providing volunteers with the opportunity to build skills and confidence while connecting with their community. Independent research has demonstrated the value of having services delivered locally in Thamesmead and enables us to continue conversations on social prescribing with the London Borough of Bexley and the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
We’ll also continue working with partners over the winter months when health challenges peak. We’ll be welcoming people affected by fuel poverty to our cosy corners at the Moorings Sociable Club, arranging for the Debt Free London Bus to visit the town centre, and providing access to Family Action’s local food club, and other food distribution through the community sector.
Our work is making a real difference, but we know that to bring about lasting impact, a step change is needed on how health services are delivered to people in Thamesmead. Historically the town has not been well served, meaning people have had to spend time and money travelling to get the help they need. This is at best inconvenient, at worst counterproductive.
As we move into 2023, we look forward to taking forward joint plans to set up a Healthy Thamesmead Partnership, a strategic partnership between the London Borough of Bexley, the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Peabody and the South East London NHS. Among other issues, the emerging partnership will look at the specific needs of residents and how we develop a ‘whole system’ approach to improve people’s lives. In February, Peabody will host partnership representatives to explore joint work areas, such as school superzones, and agree on joint governance arrangements and ways of working.
The Healthy Thamesmead Partnership will, among other things, oversee the delivery of our new Connected Thamesmead project – a three-year externally funded programme to ensure Thamesmead residents are more connected to neighbours, services and other communities and experience better mental health and wellbeing. Over time we’ll see a range of new interventions and service developments to improve social connection, improve community assets, create new ones, and build on existing skills. Co-design will be at the heart of this work.
There are challenging times ahead. But our strong track record, alongside our commitment to continuous improvement, leaves me excited about this coming year. I look forward to sharing our progress as the months go on.