There were three over-arching reasons driving GoWell: the opportunity that the large-scale investment in housing and neighbourhood regeneration that was taking place in Glasgow presents; the lack of evidence of whether and how housing and neighbourhood improvements improve health and wellbeing; and the enduring and in some cases widening health inequalities in Glasgow. Each of these are explained in turn below.
POLICY CONTEXT AND SCALE OF INVESTMENT: A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY
Longitudinal studies of complex social policies are difficult to design and implement and require prior warning of the timing and nature of regeneration initiatives. They also require close links between researchers and stakeholders and a well designed programme to evaluate – these are all in place in Glasgow. There are also a number of different aspects particular to Glasgow’s community regeneration and neighbourhood renewal activities that make it unique:
- The variety of activities taking place which range from incremental improvements, to refurbishment, to complete demolition and rebuilding.
- The scale of the housing change: involving over 75,000 homes.
- The extent of neighbourhood remodelling: neighbourhoods will be changed as physical, social and service environments.
- The opportunity to link housing improvement with wider actions, both through Glasgow Housing Association’s neighbourhood renewal strategy and through associated initiatives with partners.
- The focus on service delivery: improving the quality, responsiveness and reliability of services to residents.
- The emphasis on community empowerment.
- The aim to create sustainable communities with a mixture of owner occupiers and rented homes, and with greater cohesion between different groups.
Without the robust evaluation provided by GoWell, the results of the investment may have been difficult to discern, and an opportunity to further understanding would have been lost. GoWell also represented a unique opportunity for local community-based housing organisations to put themselves at the centre of attempts to improve knowledge and skills in community regeneration.
IMPROVING THE EVIDENCE BASE
It was hoped that Glasgow's massive investment in better housing and neighbourhood regeneration would improve health and wellbeing and would create a stronger sense of community ownership. However, there was surprisingly little scientific evidence to tell us which kind of improvements would lead to the biggest benefits in health and wellbeing, and which may cause unexpected problems. We needed a better understanding about what initiatives would improve health, and about how they could successfully be implemented. We also needed an in-depth understanding of how people’s lives were affected by regeneration initiatives.
Many projects only evaluate investment and implementation, and not the actual impact of the initiatives on people’s health and quality of life. There is even less evidence available about the ways in which health behaviours and potentially life-enhancing activities (such as seeking employment or engaging in voluntary activities) are affected by housing and neighbourhood improvements. This is why GoWell was so important as it provided an opportunity to understand in detail the neighbourhood changes which were taking place, what local people thought of the changes and the impact these changes had on health and wellbeing.
TACKLING POOR HEALTH AND DEPRIVATION
At the time of the establishment of GoWell, the six parliamentary constituencies with the highest rates of premature mortality in the UK were in Glasgow. This fact underlines the unique challenges the city faced in tackling poor health and deprivation. Moreover, in communities like these, there tends to be a whole range of factors present that are associated with poorer health, so there is a need for large scale transformation and not simply improvements in one or two aspects. Glasgow’s social housing tenants bear a disproportionate burden of the city’s ill health and poverty, and therefore it was important to focus particularly on how the health of these individuals, families and communities might have been improved.