Community businesses’ impact on health and wellbeing - what’s the evidence?

Community businesses bring people together and enable and support them to make connections with each other

Susie Finlayson

Development Manager

Improving the health and wellbeing of the local community is the most frequently cited impact area for community businesses (Community Business Market in 2018). At Power to Change we believed that when a community leads on designing or delivering the activities and services it needs, those services are likely to contribute to positive outcomes for the people that use them. But we didn’t have the evidence to support this.

A recent systematic review (a research method that reviews existing evidence and studies), by the University of the West of England explored just that. The review makes it clear that the available evidence is of varying quality as this hasn’t been a focus area for gathering robust evidence and notes that more research is needed.

However, the review has found that community businesses (and similar models) do make a positive impact on health and wellbeing outcomes for their users.

They do this in a number of ways:

  • Social connectedness – unsurprisingly given their nature, community businesses bring people together and enable and support them to make connections with each other. Those who engage with community businesses are more socially connected with others, this in turn lessened their social isolation and feeling of loneliness. The impact of loneliness on physical health is well documented, so through increasing social-connectedness community businesses are likely to also be contributing to improved physical health.
  • Self-esteem – half of the included studies showed that community businesses increased feelings of self-esteem. This was through various means including learning new skills or a sense of pride on completing tasks.
  • Physical health – the physical health benefits of community business models were often seen through users engaging with physical activities involved in production of goods or services. Such as gardening, farming, sports or other leisure activities.
  • Mental wellbeing – bearing in mind that community businesses increase social connectedness and self-esteem it is logical that they also improve mental wellbeing as many of the factors involved in each are related. Half of the studies included in the review found that community businesses make users feel happy and supported, offering a sense of hope in improving their local community.
  • Quality of life – as well as studies reporting a generally improved quality of life, users felt a sense of purpose by being able to help others they were working with.

What is clear is that it is not solely formal health and social care services that improve health and wellbeing. For instance, activities such as Men’s Sheds can impact positively on health through creating a sense of achievement and building social connections whilst not primarily focussing on creating better health as an explicit aim.

At Power to Change we want to build the evidence for this and support community businesses to make the case to funders and commissioners that their activities promote better health and wellbeing. We are supporting community businesses that deliver health and social care in a number of ways, for example through our Community of Practice that brings together a group of community business leaders in the sector to share learning and explore opportunities for developing their practice, see our dedicated webpage for more information.

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