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Community Wellbeing: ‘Being Well Together’

Being Well Together is an umbrella for several pieces of work led by Sarah Atkinson as the Durham partner in collaborations with the University of Liverpool, the University of Birmingham and the UK’s What Works Wellbeing Centre.

It encompasses the following projects:

(1) What Works Wellbeing Evidence Programme for Community Wellbeing

Led by the University of Liverpool and funded by the Economic and Social Science Research Council, this programme includes:

(i) Conceptualising Community Wellbeing

Sarah Atkinson led a conceptual review of the different ways community wellbeing is defined, measured and evaluated, explored the underlying assumptions to different models and identified gaps in current approaches.

Many approaches rely on aggregated individual wellbeing measures, losing engagement with the associative nature conveyed by the concept of community. Community wellbeing can be assessed across a large range of possible domains of life, but almost always includes some variant of health, economy, social relations and security. There are indicators that can capture the collective nature of community wellbeing from different angles including individual responses to community characteristics and community-scale measures of place. These need to be understood and differentiated in terms of what they capture and the work they can do. It is not, however, easy to capture any sense of collective subjective wellbeing and greater understanding of how to use qualitative, participatory and cultural sources of evidence in policy is needed. Four important considerations are often left out that are central to capturing a meaningful concept of community wellbeing; these are sustainability, inequality, considerations of intangible cultural heritage and inter-generational relations.

Excerpt from community wellbeing conceptual report

Read ‘What is community wellbeing? Conceptual Review’, What Works Wellbeing, September 2017.

Research papers based on this work include:

Atkinson, S., Bagnall, A.M., Corcoran, R., South, J., Curtis, S. (2020) Being well together: individual subjective and community wellbeingJournal of Happiness Studies 21: 1903-1921

Atkinson, S. (2020) The toxic effects of subjective wellbeing and potential tonics. Social Science and Medicine 288: 113098

Atkinson, S. (2020) Commentary: Wellbeing, Space and Society (inaugural issue). Wellbeing, Space and Society 1:100015  


(ii) Analysing Dimensions of Community Belonging

The Durham team, Sarah Curtis with Sarah Atkinson, led an analysis of local expression of social cohesion and community attachment, or belonging, in relation to measures of deprivation and inequality over time. The researchers drew on the Understanding Society Survey panel data to draw out associations within one survey and over time between surveys.

Findings from this study indicated that areas with worse deprivation and greater social fragmentation showed lower levels of social cohesion and weaker attachment to neighbourhoods. Those with worse deprivation reported poorer wellbeing. Perhaps more importantly, improvements over time in wellbeing seen nationally were weaker in areas of worse deprivation, potentially widening inequality gaps between localities. Perception of social cohesion and sense of attachment to one’s neighbourhood were associated with self-reported wellbeing.

Read ‘Social cohesion and community attachment: analysis of the Understanding Society Survey’. What Works Wellbeing, September 2019.

Research papers based on this work include:

Curtis, S., Congdon, P., Atkinson, S., Corcoran, R., Maguire, R., Peasgood, T. (2020) Adverse conditions for wellbeing at the neighbourhood scale in England: potential and challenges for operationalising wellbeing in and of places. Wellbeing, Space and Society


(2) What Works Wellbeing: Thriving Communities

As part of the What Works Wellbeing Centre’s strand of work on Thriving Communities, Sarah Atkinson was Co-Investigator on a project led by the University of Birmingham (PI: Dr Laura Kudrna) to explore and model the relationship between individual and place-based community wellbeing.

The study drew on the secondary data source of the Understanding Society Survey together with interviews with people working in local government, the third sector, politics and academia to contextualise the wider social, political and economic context of the proposed model, to consider risks of negative outcomes from community-level initiatives and interventions, barriers and enablers and trade-offs. The main analytic themes emerging from the qualitative work related to co-production and power-sharing, the limitations of available data for monitoring and evaluation at local levels, horizontal and vertical gaps in funding and commissioning, together with issues of lobbying, legislation and leadership.

Man and woman talking

Read ‘Investigating the relationships between individual and place-based community wellbeing’, What Works Wellbeing, March 2020.

Explore ‘A new model of individual and community wellbeing’, What Works Wellbeing, March 2022.