CHESS (Community Health Engagement Survey Solutions) is an innovative, data-driven community engagement process. Through CHESS, people come together to investigate their local environment using a CHESS App, assess the factors that make it easier or harder to live healthily, and identify changes they can make as a community to live healthier lives. It was created by C3’s Dr. Denise Stevens and includes a mobile tool that equips local communities in identifying and mapping the barriers they face every day when making choices about diet, activity and healthy living.
With Project ASPIRE, C3 is engaging with 7 different communities across the South of England and the North of France to survey their environments using CHESS, with a view to reducing obesity and enhancing employability. There is a clear link between areas of high economic deprivation and areas where obesity levels are high. This is true of northern France and southern England too. Communities in these areas need support to combat these twin issues. CHESS has provided community members with a different lens to critically analyse their environment and encouraged them to consider the impact of the built environment on their abilities, individually and as a community, to live healthier lives.
This week, we’re focusing on Aylesham. Home to just over 4,000 people, this rural town is located 10km inland from the busy port of Dover and their ASPIRE project is run jointly by Dover District Council and Your Leisure, a registered society dedicated to improving the health, wellbeing, and lifestyles of communities.
In Autumn of 2020, C3 held a CHESS walk with members of the community going through the town and documenting areas of improvement, generating data and ideas for how to make the environment more community health-friendly. In preparation, and to understand the health challenges in Aylesham, C3 researched local and national data sets in addition to local authority publications. We also analysed maps of Aylesham and existing assets to create an asset map, deepening our understanding of the built environment in Aylesham and implications for community health.
Using the CHESS tool, Aylesham community members captured quantitative data on the local built environment and assets. During the walk and afterwards, C3 staff had conversations with community members, asking about their experiences of living in the town. C3 staff wrote up notes afterwards to capture the qualitative data from these conversations.
On the walk, community members collectively carried out a total of 58 scans of 18 different assets. We encourage all community members to engage with the questions and to experience conducting scans, so inevitably there is some duplication of assets scanned. The types of scans conducted were: • Shops scans
- Restaurant scans
- Outdoor physical activity scans
- Indoor physical activity area scans
- Street scans.
Community members collected data on the kinds of healthy and unhealthy foods sold at local shops and restaurants, carrying out ‘colour counts’ on varieties of fresh fruit and vegetables available. They also collected data on the outdoor and indoor physical activity spaces available in the town, noting whether and when they were available to the public, were they youth-friendly? Wheelchair-accessible? Well-lit? Finally, there was a qualitative aspect to the CHESS walk: conversations with community members around the nature of life in Aylesham, what’s improved and what hasn’t, things that people would like to see and problems that need to be addressed.
There is a lack of local leisure facilities, and a lack of exercise classes for children – there needs to be more on offer.
Once the data had been collected, C3 held a series of insight sessions for participants to join, with a view to reviewing the material and drawing conclusions regarding next steps. With regard to potential improvements to the built landscape, C3 and the participants identified 4 key overlapping themes in the review: physical activity, food growing & production, community connectivity, opportunities for local sellers. Ideas mooted as solutions included increased outdoor and covered seating, skill-swapping initiatives, organised coffee mornings, establishment of a community allotment, organised cookery classes, and a weekly farmer’s market to give growers an opportunity to sell their food.
Upon review, when these ideas were presented to community members, they were asked whether any should be relegated. At this point, it was decided that collaborative efforts with local shops would be dropped as there was little faith that the businesses would co-operate with no financial incentive to do so.
Finally, three priority ideas were decided upon:
- Establish a farmer’s market where people can sell, or exchange locally grown produce.
- Organise cooking activities at Bechange, a local community workshop, and hold coffee mornings there.
- Create new resources and a suite of activities linked to food and fitness.
Each of these priority ideas were assigned a list of associated suggested actions, creating a sense of enthusiasm and urgency and inspiring community members to co-operate on their shared goal of bettering their community.
People can get involved on individual level, so nobody gets left out. You can have an action pack for an individual or a family of five. It will lead to people being a bit more honest with themselves; you can look back through your action pack and see what has made a difference.
C3 has allocated resources within its ASPIRE project budget to support implementation of the co-designed community action plan. These resources include grant monies, and funds to employ an individual to oversee delivery of the action plan.
Drawing on our experience in community engagement projects, C3 advises that the grant money is used early in the ASPIRE project, to maintain project momentum, community enthusiasm and buy – in. Previous examples of such ‘quick wins’ have included: purchasing equipment for cooking sessions; buying and fitting basketball nets; and on one occasion, the resources were used to pay the utility bill for a community centre about to close! There are also ASPIRE resources to employ a part-time project manager in Aylesham, for up to 18 months. It is expected that this person will be a n Aylesham resident and recognised to have some leadership – type role within the community. The local project manager will manage the implementation of the community’s action plan and C3 will support them through regular communication and consultation.
Bournemouth University is the lead ASPIRE partner for evaluation and will be evaluating the whole ASPIRE project. C3 asked all community members to complete a pre-CHESS walk impact survey on 10 September 2020 and will ask community members to complete post-CHESS impact surveys after six months, one year and at project end.
C3’s Other Community Work
Through our , we’ve worked with local mums who wished their children had a real playground to play in rather than a car park; and helped youth and elderly community members negotiate usage of shared park space.
Our projects’ insights have been used to inform community-driven recommendations for changes in neighbourhoods across the UK and abroad and evidence collected has helped local authorities to secure substantial funding.
Find out more about C3’s work with Project ASPIRE here.