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What is ‘well-being’ and how can it be impacted by quality of place? This was the question raised in “Measuring Well-being for Effective Place Making”, the sixth in a series of symposia hosted by the University of Dundee’s Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience (CECHR). MainStreet Consulting has recently been involved in really interesting place-making work with some of our clients and so was delighted to join the speakers in considering how to measure well-being through the contribution of better place making, both in terms of social capital and quality of life indicators.

What is well-being? 
Well-being is defined by The World Health Organisation (WHO) as “A state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

As the presenters made their arguments there is a consensus in the room that well-being goes beyond the basic needs (health, food and shelter) to a higher plane of self-satisfaction. This can include anything from having a fair share of material resources, a sense of purpose and control, to a connection with people and place. Well-being, therefore, is not one concept, says Dr. Ricardo Codinhoto; it is made-up of multiple, interconnected elements. And, in Scotland currently, as Dr. Beverly Searle pointed out, well-being is represented in the National Performance Framework; a tool which assesses Scotland’s well-being on a national scale and covers a wide range of social and environmental indicators. Internationally,  the OECD identifies 11 areas of material living conditions and quality of life deemed essential for well-being in their ‘How’s life?’  comparative index.

Achieving well-being through place making
There was agreement during the discussion that place making has become increasingly important way of considering community focused improvements in well-being, so much so that it is putting pressure on policy makers nationally to address quality of life issues.

One terrific example of national policy making in this area is the Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) project. Maureen McAteer of GIRFEC suggested that well-being must be truly embedded in the Scottish approach of bottom-up assessment and link with Community Planning Partnerships, with a strong emphasis on a policy of prevention and early intervention. GIRFEC uses the S.H.A.N.A.R.R.I. measurement wheel that centres on eight indicators of well-being:

Other recent national initiatives in Scotland recognize this too. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act’s section on community participation requests is one example: this now allows for communities that have ‘identified an opportunity to improve health or well-being’ to create a place that works for them, thereby better aligning the processes of place making with the objectives of well-being.


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We at MainStreet are seeing a gradual increase in projects that have community well-being at their core. Our firm has recently worked with two organisations that explicitly focused on well-being: Port of Leith Housing Association (PoLHA) on the creation of a place making vehicle to deliver activities and projects that will improve the physical social and economic environment within Leith and North Edinburgh; and, currently, Glasgow City Foundation (the charitable element of Glasgow City Football Club) to develop a joint sport and community well-being facility in Auchinairn.

We hope to see more of these types of projects in the public sector in Scotland. This is particularly true for community planning, where ‘place’ is central to delivering well-being.

Anca Johnstone

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