Our impact: on wellbeing, happiness, and having more people around

Nearly two years ago, North London Cares, alongside our sister charity South London Cares, began work on an in-depth evaluation to demonstrate the impact of our model on the lives of the younger and older neighbours who participate in our community networks. 

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At that time, we'd been developing our model for three years. We'd already published one evaluation, just a few months earlier. That study taught us a lot about what we do, the people who make our vision a reality, and the impact our model has on reducing loneliness and isolation, improving wellbeing and bringing people together across social and generational divides.

But that initial evaluation was just a snapshot. It gave us robust and reliable evidence that our model helps people to feel more connected on all fronts – but we wanted something that showed us how our Social Clubs, Love Your Neighbour programme and Outreach work help to connect people to meet our objectives over a longer period of time.

We wanted to know more about what motivates people to be involved, and how their interactions locally might add to a sense of belonging, identity and community. And, crucially, we wanted to know why people are drawn to – and then stay part of – our networks. 

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Because we'd already completed one evaluation, and because the connections we help make between younger and older neighbours who are bound by geography but who share so much more than that can be extraordinary, we didn't want this to be an ordinary evaluation. 

We wanted this research to avoid painting by numbers, and to try to measure the love, time and energy that go into those friendships. And we wanted to capture something about why our model is different – in human terms, and not just scientific or purely academic terms. 

Two years on, we are thrilled to be able to publish the results of that new evaluation

In short, the study shows that, over a year:

  • Older neighbours who are part of our activities feel an increase in wellbeing, particularly in their levels of happiness;
  • There is an increase of older neighbours saying they have plenty of people around whom they can rely on when they have problems;
  • There is a decrease in the number of older neighbours reporting that they miss having people around;
  • Neighbours feel a greater sense of community engagement as a result of their participation. 
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Of course, as with any evaluation, these basic findings come with caveats. The sample was relatively small, and there was a large drop off of people across the year of research. Neighbours' personal circumstances, unconnected to their involvement in the Cares Family's work, may have changed drastically, for better or worse, during the research period, affecting the results. And some findings do not offer such a rosy picture – for example some older neighbours report feeling more anxious over time and many still crave people to feel close to. 

However, we are really enthused that the top line results published on the Nesta website bring more of that statistical evidence that our model really works. And we are especially reassured that in the detail, and the stories that people shared, some of that magic that we wanted to try to capture jumps proudly off the page:

  • "I think about her every day. I wonder what she’s doing, and that brings me happiness, even when I don’t see her all week."
  • "I can’t get out, and it’s nice to have somebody come. Somebody regular who cares and just talks to me."
  • "I feel committed to the cause. It’s bringing back a sense of community and trying to get everyone together. And make sure people are happy. Bring back that sense of knowing people."

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We're so thrilled that our younger and older neighbours share so much. And we're so chuffed that Renaisi, who conducted this research, did such a wonderful job – sensitive to the needs of the participants, passionate about our mission, and challenging us in new ways. Alongside these qualitative and quantitative insights, Renaisi have also, in their report and wider process and culture evaluation, captured the subtleties of the Cares model. We're really grateful to them, to Nesta and the Cabinet Office who funded the work, and all of the neighbours who participate in the network every day.

You can read the full evaluation report here, and over the coming weeks we will publish some of the key findings through Facebook and Twitter, including more on the development of our model, why we do what we do, and our plans for further evaluations to make those key connections between the value of community and the effect it can have on people's lives.

Alex Smith

Posted by Alex Smith on Thursday 6th October 2016

Alex is NLC's founder and CEO.