All of these factors relate in some way to the community we live in and so our community is a major determinant in our health and well-being. Understanding what makes for a healthy community then is fundamental to our understanding of what makes us healthy.
It's all too easy to focus on what is wrong with a community - the inequality, the housing, the environment, the infrastructure - however this approach does little to alleviate the problems. A more constructive and useful approach is to focus on the assets of the community. Community assets can be described as the skills, knowledge and experience of the members of the community - the social and human resources within the community. These combined with the material assests such as land and buildings are what comprise the assets of any community. It is by concentrating on those aspects and working with the members of the community as equal partners that the health and well-being of the community can be enhanced.
How this can be accomplished is described in Jane Foot's paper 'What Makes Us Healthy. The assets approach in action: evidence, action and evaluation' In her paper she lays out an asset based approach to health inequalities. She is clear that asset-based working is not an alternative to public services but challenges how these public services are designed and delivered. As she states 'Asset-based approaches complement services and other activities that are intended to reduce inequalities in life chances and life circumstances, and which meet needs in the community.'
The paper makes explicit what an asset-based approach is and how it aims to improve connectedness and social capital by nurturing the assets in a community and connecting them for the benefit of individuals, families and neighbourhoods. There is growing evidence of the inter-connectedness of health and social capital - people with stronger social networks are happier and healthier.
There are financial benefits too for local government in investing in this approach as it offers an effective way to support families and communities to mobilise their resources for their own well-being. However, it does require a co-operative and co-ordinated effort by agencies and communities to invest in health-giving assets.
The paper acknowledges that resilience is critical to the health of any community and it gives a description of the factors that encourage resilience to develop over life. Perhaps predictably there is evidence from research that supportive relationships play a significant part in maintaining resilience and it is the quality of longer-term social relationships that protect health and well-being.
The final part of the paper provides examples of how people and organisations who recognise the potential power of an asset-based approach are working with communities and transforming services.
Read the paper here.