Community Engagement in Tower Hamlets

20 Aug 2018
Liz Morgans

Community Engagement in Tower Hamlets

C3 recently completed a project using our community engagement tool, CHESS™, as part of a broader partnership project commissioned by Tower Hamlets Council. C3’s report is now available to download and the CHESS findings are summarised below. 


At the heart of C3’s community engagement work is CHESS™, a tool which allows community members to assess the physical environment in which they live, work and play and in particular scrutinise those areas which sell and serve food and provide opportunities for physical activity. C3 has recently used the tool with community members in locations in the north of England and in Scotland, and previously in other parts of London.

In January 2018 C3 performed CHESS™ with community members in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, in which CHESS™ was part of a broader long term project commissioned by Tower Hamlets Council ‘Communities Driving Change’ (CDC). This programme is designed to support residents in improving their health and wellbeing at a local level. The programme runs for three years and aims to empower local residents by asking them about their health and wellbeing needs, exploring what is working and what isn’t and to co-produce a plan in order to support sustainable change in the community.

C3 is one of the four partners working with Uscreates, Real and the Young Foundation on lot four of the CDC project.

Mothers investigating their community's physical activity assets

Mothers investigating their community’s physical activity assets on the Collingwood Estate.

Members of C3 braved the winter temperatures and the ‘beast from the east’ to meet with key players within the Collingwood Estate community of Tower Hamlets to discuss the current issues affecting community members with respect to living longer and healthier lives. These key players assisted in the recruitment of community members for CHESS™. Two community walks took place in Tower Hamlets with two different groups. The first walk included fourteen mums from the local primary school and one grandmother. This first walk focused on analysis of the physical activity spaces in the local community. The walk was planned so that representatives from each physical activity space could speak with the group and offer information on access and share information about forth coming events. The group were even treated to watching an adult ballet class at the local library.

In spite of forecast rain, it was a beautiful and sunny day, perfect walking weather! The participants used the CHESS™ tool on tablets which asks questions about the available spaces such as what facilities are available, how are spaces accessed and at what cost? Conversations naturally emerged relating to physical activity and barriers to physical activity for both the women and their families. These barriers included

  • High costs of existing classes, programmes and gym memberships
  • Timings; the timing of the women’s only session was not considered not conducive to mums attending
  • Lack of facilities or poor quality play facilities for children


Community member turned CHESS-investigator looks at food options in her community.

The second walk analysed the local food environment which included shops, restaurants and markets stalls. Community members from the local Tenants Residence Association participated in the walk and used the tablets which asked questions relating to the availability and variety of fresh food and whether (or not!) healthier choices are available and clearly labelled as healthy. Barriers to healthy eating discussed by the group included;

  • vast numbers of fast food restaurants in the local area selling foods high in fat and salt and some staying open until very late
  • lack of knowledge regarding some of the fresh foods available to buy at the market stalls
  • high visibility of the non-healthy foods in some of the shops, and less visible healthier options.

The critical thinking prompted by using the CHESS™ tool opened up fascinating conversations on both walks and wonderful community-led ideas for improvements. Key points from both walks included an existing lack of connectivity in the community with underused available spaces and a desire for a community ‘hub’. There was an overwhelming sense that community activity promotes connectivity. One of our the CHESS™ walkers summed this up perfectly “activity sparks activity; if people see community members gardening or painting, they will stop, ask questions, know what is happening and activity will naturally grow.”

For more findings and community recommendations, download the full report: CHESS™ on the Collingwood Estate, a C3 community investigation commissioned by Tower Hamlets Council as part of their flagship Communities Driving Change programme.


Learn more about our community engagement programme by reading about our CHESS™ tool and recently completed Healthy Communities project in England & Scotland.