National partnership to tackle health inequalities in coastal communities awarded £2.4 million

  • 15th February 2024

A national partnership led by researchers at the Universities of Bristol and Liverpool has received £2.4 million to tackle health inequalities in coastal communities.

The award is one of a number announced today [15 Feb] by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under its Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-led Mobilising Community Assets to Tackle Health Inequalities programme, which aims to improve health through access to culture, nature and community.

Dr Lucy Selman, Associate Professor from the Centre for Academic Primary Care and Palliative and End of Life Care Research Group at the University of Bristol and a Weston-super-Mare resident, is one of the funding recipients. Together with Dr Barbara Mezes, Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Population Health, University of Liverpool, Dr Selman is leading a three-year project focussed on three coastal areas of England which have significant health inequalities but are rich in community assets: Blackpool, Weston-super-Mare and Hastings.

The project will bring the NHS, local authorities, researchers, voluntary and community organisations and residents together to tackle health inequalities. It will focus in particular on three mental health priority areas in coastal towns: young people’s mental health, substance misuse, and life-limiting illness and bereavement.

The Partnership will generate evidence and resources to improve mental health in these focus areas by enhancing and widening access to creative community assets; enhancing the skills and knowledge of people working with these communities; and creating a model of collaborative working across sectors and with community members, to help tackle health inequalities using creative community assets. Co-production with local people with lived experience will run throughout the project.

The Partnership extends the work of the Weston-super-Mare Community Network, also funded by the AHRC, which, since November 2022, has been uniting diverse stakeholders across North Somerset to tackle inequities in serious illness and bereavement and the social isolation which can result from these universal experiences.

Dr Selman said:

“Coastal communities suffer some of the worst health outcomes in the country, and significant inequities throughout the life course. We are delighted to collaborate with Dr Barbara Mezes and colleagues nationally to expand our work in serious illness and bereavement to benefit other coastal communities, and to widen our focus to include young people’s mental health and wellbeing and substance misuse – key areas of concern in our communities. We are hugely grateful to UKRI and the AHRC for supporting this project.”

Dr Mezes said:

“I am excited to collaborate with Dr Selman and a very strong team, and grateful for the opportunity. Coastal communities face many challenges, including poverty, but they have many community assets, such as cultural organisations, community centres, and charities working tirelessly to support the wellbeing of local residents. This funding will allow us to work with community partners to better integrate creative community assets into health and social care systems by bolstering cross-sector local and national partnerships. We will generate the evidence base to inform local actions and a national strategy to tackle inequalities, address mental health needs, and improve the wellbeing of people living in our coastal communities.”

AHRC Health Inequalities Programme Director Helen Chatterjee said:

“The evidence is clear – intellectual stimulation, a sense of purpose, engagement in your community and a fulfilling social life are as important as diet, exercise and medical care when it comes to living a long and healthy life. Yet often public health interventions neglect this reality.

“These funded projects seek to improve the length and quality of our lives by making use of the rich cultural, artistic, nature and social resources that already exist within our communities. In this way, we can shape a healthier, happier Britain.”

See a full list of funded projects