By Charlotte Lock (Director of Data, Digital and Loyalty) and Rebecca Birkbeck (Director of Community and Shared Value)

What the 2021 refresh of the Community Wellbeing Index (CWI) has told us  

Community wellbeing in the UK shifted more in the past 12 months than at any time since we launched the CWI in 2018. We’ve seen signs of increased pressure on mental health and prosperity, with a rise in antidepressant use across all regions of the UK, particularly in communities with lower incomes.  

We’ve also seen significant increases in unemployment and a corresponding uptake of free-school meals. While our communities have been dealing with the pandemic, they’ve been significantly less likely to sign petitions – which were either less prevalent or lower priority.  

The extraordinary circumstances our communities have endured through the pandemic have led to some positive changes too. There have been infrastructural improvements, with rural communities in particular benefiting from increases in internet speeds, bridging some of the urban-rural technology divide.

Long periods of lockdown have also shifted the crime landscape with reductions in robberies, muggings and shoplifting across communities; whilst drug and anti-social behaviour related crimes have increased.  

What the CWI is

In 2018 the Co-op, in partnership with The Young Foundation and Geolytix, set out to understand what ‘community wellbeing’ means to people across the UK. We did this to support the creation of an online data tool that would provide hyper-local insight into the wellbeing of communities. The Community Wellbeing Index (CWI) is the first ever measure of wellbeing at a local level across all four nations of the UK. 

Understanding community wellbeing 

We felt it was important to find out directly from communities themselves what they feel helps them to live well. We wanted to get to the heart of what matters most in a local community – from strong relationships and active participation, to good, local schools, affordable housing and public transport links. This research shaped the key themes within our Index, which sit within the pillars of People, Place and Relationships.

With data on over 28,000 communities, the Index covers more than 50 different wellbeing related indicators. This enables the Co-op and external users of the data to gain insight into the strengths of, and challenges facing communities across the UK.  

Refreshing the CWI 

To ensure that the insight provided by the CWI remains as accurate, relevant, and up to date as possible, we’ve committed to refreshing the data once a year. We’re now on the fourth iteration of the Index and for the first time, as part of the annual refresh cycle, we’ve produced a report covering key findings from the 2021 update that you can read here.

How the CWI is supporting our vision  

During the peak of the crisis, the CWI helped us target the support our members provided through the Co-op Members Coronavirus Fund. Many other organisations across local government, charities and the private sector are also using it to target their activities and help make the biggest change. We recently used the Index to help shape the three missions of our community strategy, which are – fairer access to food, fairer access to mental wellbeing support and fairer access to opportunities for young people.

Thanks to the money that our members have helped us raise and  as part of our work with partners Mind, SAMH and Inspire, we’re introducing new mental wellbeing services across the UK, using data from the CWI to identify where there are high levels of mental wellbeing need. The 50 services, which will help at least 10,000 people, will focus on the role of the community in supporting mental wellbeing and build resilience by helping people to make new social connections and learn coping skills. 

This year, we also partnered with Hubbub to fast-track the expansion of their community fridge network across the UK and have used the Index to help us decide which communities would benefit most from support. The fridges are open to everyone in communities, to access fresh food that would otherwise have gone to waste. 

Try our CWI

The Community Wellbeing index is a vital tool for helping us, and others, to prioritise community activity.

By entering a postcode, the Index reveals a community’s overall wellbeing score and indicates its performance across nine specific areas including: education; health and equality.

You can learn more here.