Healthy Gains: The Social Value of Wellness Hubs
Public leisure facilities are essential for the health and wellbeing of the nation. They provide a range of benefits for individuals and communities, such as improving physical and mental health, reducing health inequalities, supporting social prescribing, teaching children vital life skills, enhancing community cohesion and safety, and contributing to economic vitality. However, they face significant challenges that threaten their survival and development.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the sector, compounding existing pressures such as an ageing leisure estate, reduced public funding, increased competition from the private sector, and lack of strategic coordination between health and leisure at a national level. According to a report by APSE, CLOA and LGA, public sport and leisure services are facing a £1.7 billion funding gap by 2024/25, which could result in the closure of up to 1,300 facilities and the loss of 44,000 jobs.
These closures have serious implications for the health and wellbeing of millions of people who rely on public sport and leisure facilities to stay active and healthy. They also affect the ability of schools to deliver physical education and swimming lessons, as 72 per cent of schools depend on public swimming pools to teach children vital life skills.
Whilst private-sector businesses have been attempting to mitigate some of the impact by providing their own leisure and wellbeing facilities (see ‘Healthy Gains in the Private Sector’), local governments are beginning to consider different, innovative approaches focused on the consolidation of numerous services to form multifunctional spaces that can better support and enrich local communities with their mix of uses.
An innovative and comprehensive approach
Co-locating leisure and fitness with GP surgeries, child and adult services, libraries, and cinemas to form health and wellbeing hubs can have multiple benefits, not only improving the overall wellness of the community, but also fostering social cohesion, economic growth and, critically, cost savings for local authorities. Indeed, many Levelling Up Fund bids are focusing on these wellness hubs with successful investment.
Whilst a relatively new concept in the UK, there are already some examples of successful projects that highlight best practice, such as The Portway Lifestyle Centre in Sandwell or The Graves Health and Sports Centre in Sheffield. Further ambitious schemes are in the pipeline, such Weston Favell project in Devon, which is being developed by the local authority in partnership with the NHS, the voluntary sector, and the community. The project will transform a former hospital site into a wellness hub that will provide:
- a health and wellbeing centre with GP services, mental health support, physiotherapy, and podiatry
- a community hub with a library, café, cinema, meeting rooms and co-working spaces
- a care hub with residential and nursing care, extra care housing and respite care
- a green hub with allotments, gardens, play areas and outdoor fitness equipment
The Weston Favell project aims to create a vibrant and inclusive place that meets the needs and aspirations of the local population, especially older people, and those with long-term conditions. The project also hopes to reduce health inequalities, improve outcomes and quality of life, and generate social value and economic benefits for the area.
Challenges and opportunities
Wellness hubs are not without challenges. Some of the potential barriers to their implementation include:
- Securing funding and investment from various sources;
- Engaging stakeholders and partners from different sectors;
- Managing governance and accountability issues;
- Evaluating impact and effectiveness;
- Scaling up and replicating successful models.
As architects and masterplanners working across multiple sectors, including leisure and healthcare, we understand the complexity of co-locating these services. Bringing together healthcare and leisure services requires a strategic site with sufficient area, secured funding won from a government pot, an experienced multidisciplinary design team. Careful design considerations are necessary for connectivity, sense of arrival and place, a public forum within a cohesive campus and thought given to the adjacencies of healthcare and leisure which are not typically bedfellows.
Of course, in design where there are challenges there is opportunity, and many of the most well considered, functional and attractive projects are born when the design team is challenged. A well-considered response to a complex brief with a cost-effective and deliverable solution should always be the architect’s goal.
Wellness hubs are an innovative and comprehensive approach to improving health and wellbeing in the community. They offer an opportunity for local authorities to work collaboratively with partners and residents to design and deliver services that are integrated, accessible and responsive. Wellness hubs can also help to address some of the challenges facing the health and social care system, such as rising demand, fragmentation, and funding pressures.
Wellness hubs can generate efficiency savings, stimulate local economy, and enhance social cohesion, while also contributing to the Government’s Industrial Strategy by creating jobs, boosting productivity, and driving growth.
Whilst still in their infancy in the UK, there are already some examples of successful projects that highlight best practice. Wellness hubs face some challenges in their implementation, but they also present opportunities for innovation and collaboration, with the potential to transform the way public services are delivered and accessed in the UK.
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