Regeneration of deprived areas can improve residents’ mental health

Research by Cardiff University has found that community-led regeneration in deprived areas can improve the mental health of residents (Cardiff University, 2017).

The study, one of the first of its kind worldwide, found a small but measurable improvement in the mental health of residents in areas of Caerphilly County Borough that underwent community-led regeneration compared to those that didn’t. This was equivalent to one in every three residents in regeneration areas reporting improved symptoms. There was also a significant trend between length of residence and mental health, suggesting that the longer people lived in areas experiencing regeneration the more their mental health improved.

The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, evaluated Communities First, a Welsh Government programme to reduce poverty in the hundred most deprived electoral wards in Wales. Using anonymously linked data from Caerphilly County Borough Council, GP surgeries and existing studies, 10,892 residents from areas that did and didn’t receive Communities First funding were tracked between 2001 and 2008.

According to study lead, Dr James White, Senior Lecturer in Public Health at the Centre for Trials Research and DECIPHer Centre “The significance of this research should not be overstated. Billions of dollars are spent worldwide on regeneration projects, and very few have been evaluated…Our study shows that targeted regeneration, directed by the residents of deprived urban communities, can help to improve the mental health of residents. We found Communities First narrowed the gap in poor mental health between the more and less deprived neighbourhoods.”

During the period studied one thousand five hundred regeneration projects were delivered as part of the Communities First programme in Caerphilly County Borough at a cost of £82,857,180.

The type of regeneration projects were diverse and included:

  • Crime: installing street lighting
  • Education: teaching assistants
  • Health: provision of sport equipment
  • Housing and physical environment: conducting housing maintenance and repairs and redevelopment of waste land
  • Vocational training and business support: providing computer skills training to unemployed people
  • Community: building community centres

The study also revealed that before regeneration, residents of Communities First areas were more likely to be unemployed (3.2% compared to 2.5%), sick or disabled (17.1% compared to 10.6%), live in rented accommodation (25.8% compared to 14.7%), and live in poverty (58.8% compared to 43.9%), than residents of control areas.

James White said “The Communities First regeneration program we evaluated is unique in that community residents, rather than local councils or governments, identified areas to be regenerated. The policy implication of this finding is that targeted regeneration, directed by the residents of deprived urban communities, may help to reduce inequalities in mental health.”

The authors hope the research will inform policy to improve mental health and narrow health inequalities at population level.

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