Bicester wellbeing project paves the way for future communities

A new NHS study, guiding how future developments should be built with wellbeing at their heart, has praised the Healthy Bicester partnership.

Published: Tuesday, 10th September 2019

Bicester was named alongside nine other places in England as an NHS Healthy New Town in 2016, providing funding for projects encouraging residents to increase their physical activity, think more about their diet and help people to become more involved in their community to combat social isolation.

Three years on, major national guidance, ‘Healthy New Towns, Putting Health into Place’, has now been released by the NHS detailing ten principles which should be adopted, to encourage wellbeing to be planned for and built into new developments.

Several Healthy Bicester initiatives were highlighted in the report, including the 5k health routes (Principle 5, Maximise Active Travel), noting how for every £1 invested in creating the blue-lined walks, £2.10 would be saved over 25 years. The addition of the outdoor gyms, bike repair workshops and effective social media campaigns were also credited with amplifying the project.

Cherwell District Council’s lead member for health and wellbeing, Cllr Andrew McHugh said: “This study backs up what we already know about the Healthy Bicester partnership. We are extremely proud of the positive outcomes of the project and keen to share the learning so future communities across the country can benefit.

“Although the funding from the NHS for the Healthy New Town programme has ended, Cherwell District Council has seen such great results that we have committed to continue financing the healthy place shaping project in Bicester and will roll it out to other areas, starting with Kidlington."

Bicester Social Cycling is just one community group who have witnessed the benefits first hand. Monica Mehers encourages people of all abilities to get on their bikes and found that Healthy Bicester has increased awareness of her organisation. Monica said: “Active travel is not just about adopting a healthy mode of transport, it can also be lots of fun!

“Getting the message out has not always been easy, but with the support of Healthy Bicester, we’ve seen awareness of our group go up and, more importantly, more people join us on our social cycle rides making them all the more enjoyable.”

Further successes, noted in the report of the programme in Bicester, included the creation of an effective governance and team structure, by bringing together the NHS with Cherwell District Council and community groups (Principle 1, Plan Ahead Collectively), as well as the development of a new model for integrated diabetes care in the town (Principle 9, Develop Health Services That Help People Stay Well).

The provision of business networking events, showing local companies the benefits of healthy place shaping, including how wellbeing projects can enhance productivity (Principle 7, Foster Health in Homes and Buildings), were also mentioned as examples for others to follow.

Rosie Rowe, Bicester Healthy New Town director, said: “We were very fortunate to be named one of the NHS Healthy New Towns back in 2016. Three years of hard work have produced some wonderful results for the people who live and work in Bicester, but we are by no means finished. We know how long it takes to change behaviour and to make healthy living a habit, so we are keen to continue the programme in Bicester and really achieve long-term improvements in health and wellbeing.

“We look forward to continuing the project with our partners and sharing our experiences to make sure healthy place shaping can be readily adopted by communities across Cherwell.”

The full report into the learnings of the NHS Healthy New Town project (Healthy New Towns, Putting Health into Place) can be found by visiting www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/innovation/healthy-new-towns/