Neighbourhoods and Communities

Neighbourhoods and Communities

We work to unpack the ‘black box of places’ by advancing understanding of how aspects of the local social and physical environment interact to influence health and the ability to lead a healthy life. Our work will be organised in three themes, focusing on (1) understanding impacts of regeneration on health and wellbeing, (2) examining contextual influences on children and young people’s health, behaviour and development, and (3) bringing about system change to improve health in communities. Through these themes, we will explore the interdependencies among social, environmental and biological influences on health, their coalescence in particular localities, and identify potential mechanisms to improve the health of neighbourhoods and communities.


Interest in neighbourhood-level influences on health has burgeoned with research showing that although ‘who you are’ explains much geographical variation in health outcomes, there is also an effect of ‘where you are’. Neighbourhoods are also an important site for health improvement efforts, and population health monitoring. Although policy makers recognise that that `people's health, wellbeing and resilience are affected by the quality of their environments, including the availability of green and open spaces, transport, housing, access to good quality food and social isolation’finding levers to bring about health improvement by changing neighbourhoods remains a significant research challenge. Moreover, discovering which modifiable neighbourhood level factors influence biomarkers of healthy ageing is still to be done.

Aims, Objectives and overarching research questions

Our aim is to further understanding of the ways in which aspects of neighbourhood and community interact to influence health and the ability to lead a healthy life.

We will:

  • consolidate and move beyond our previous work on the socio-spatial distribution of health promoting and health damaging facilities in residential neighbourhoods, to examine how changes over time to the local social and physical environment matter for health; and ask: what are the specific mechanisms and pathways through which these changes impact and who is most affected and over what time scales? What evidence can we offer policy makers and planners on ‘what works’ to improve health in neighbourhood regeneration programmes?
  • add a new focus on children and young people, and study how the local social and physical environment influences their health and development and ask: what matters most for physical activity levels and social and behavioural development and in what contexts? What suggestions can we offer planners and policy makers for the best environments for improving children’s health and development?
  • apply the knowledge gained to develop and evaluate interventions in collaboration with policy, practice and community stakeholders.

Our longer term ambition is to further understandings of neighbourhoods as complex systems through which social and physical environments act in synergy to influence health, and to use these understandings as the basis for developing interventions to improve health through neighbourhood change.



MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit