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Durham University

Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details

McGowan, V., Wistow, J. Lewis, S., Popay, J. & Bambra, C. Pathways to mental health improvement in a community-led area-based empowerment initiative: Evidence from the Big Local ‘Communities in Control’ study, England. Journal of Public Health. 2019;41:850-857.

Author(s) from Durham


Area-based initiatives that include a focus on community empowerment are increasingly being seen as potentially an important way of improving health and reducing inequalities. However, there is little empirical evidence on the pathways between communities having more control and health outcomes.

To identify pathways to health improvement in a community-led area-based community empowerment initiative.

Longitudinal data on mental health, community control, area belonging, satisfaction, social cohesion and safety were collected over two time points, 6 months apart from 48 participants engaged in the Big Local programme, England. Qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) was used to explore pathways to health improvement.

There was no clear single pathway that led to mental health improvement but positive changes in ‘neighbourhood belonging’ featured in 4/5 health improvement configurations. Further, where respondents experienced no improvement in key social participation/control factors, they experienced no health improvement.

This study demonstrates a potential pathway between an improvement in ‘neighbourhood belonging’ and improved mental health outcomes in a community empowerment initiative. Increasing neighbourhood belonging could be a key target for mental health improvement interventions.