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Health Street: Building Health Creation into High Street Renewal

As our understanding of the connections between place and health continues to grow in the post-Covid era, we’re beginning to see initiatives emerge that are driven and shaped by evidence showing the impact of places on health. Marmot Cities are one example, where local authorities like Coventry commit to embedding the principles of the Marmot Review into the core functions of the council and its partners. aiming to reduce inequality and improve health outcomes for all in Coventry.

The Healthy Homes bill, developed by the TCPA and supported by Lord Nigel Crisp as it makes its way through Parliament is another which aims to establish legislation that acknowledges the impact homes and places have on people’s health, and ensure the delivery of healthy homes and neighbourhoods.

Increasingly these high-profile initiatives are giving rise to a series of local projects across the country, and one of these launches this week in Nottingham. It’s called Health Street, and

it aims to provide and support a place for health creation, which offers ways to improve local health while giving a new purpose to the high street.

Health Street is led by the Heatherwick Studio. I spoke to its creator, Lisa Finlay, last week about the thinking behind Health Street and what she aspires for the project.

Lisa is a Partner and Group Leader at Heatherwick Studio, and has been involved in several projects connecting physical space with health which have led to the creation of Health Street.

One of these was Maggie’s Centre in Leeds, "one of 26 high-profile architectural commissions for the innovative cancer care centres, which seek to domesticise and deinstitutionalise palliative care for both patients and their families", according to Architects’ Journal. It is described by its users as a “spectacular space that is a joy for centre visitors and staff”.

Lisa was also influenced by involvement in the 2021 Wolfson Economics Prizecompetition, which asked participants “How would you design and plan new hospitals to radically improve patient experiences, clinical outcomes, staff wellbeing, and integration with wider health and social care?” The experience helped her to build evidence of the need for “spaces that not only treat or prevent illness but improve overall health” she says. This was reinforced by what she perceived as “a post-Covid evolution of a shared language around health, focusing on prevention, communication, health creation and healthy places.”

In the meantime, while thinking more about what spaces that create health look like, Lisa was closely watching what was happening on local high streets across the country as the pandemic receded. “High streets have lost their diversity and are dominated by chains, with many independent outlets and spaces struggling” she says. “local high streets are giving way to a monoculture.” On the other hand, she also was impressed with how community-led enterprises were beginning to use the empty spaces created by this systemic change, including in Nottingham where she was working with Nottingham Council on the regeneration of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre and helping local organisations to develop a vision of the future of Nottingham’s city centre.

This project was underpinned by conversations with a wide range of individuals and organisations in Nottingham, who all had views on what they wanted to see in their city centre. Lisa recalls a conversation with a group of young people who lived on the outer periphery of Nottingham who told her when asked what would entice them into the city centre responded with “a brew, a loo and something to do”.

Equally important to her vision for Health Street were conversations with local businesses and City Arts, a local organisation raising awareness around a range of local issues through artistic projects. These led to an interest in how local food production could be a focus for renewed city centre spaces, creating opportunities to bring residents together on a regular basis through programmes and events designed around local food and healthy eating.

Health Street is not about creating a cluster of GP surgeries and pharmacies, Lisa emphasises, but about creating spaces that bring people together in a way that supports and enhances good health. She points to the Bromley-by-Bow Centre in London as an inspiration for establishing community spaces where support for healthy living is embedded in all activities, whether it be food production, art classes, citizens’ advice, exercise opportunities as well as primary care and pharmacy services.

So where Maggie’s Centre is focused on space to support cancer patients in their physical and mental health, Health Street is focused on creating space to bring together local residents of all ages and backgrounds to take part in activities that support good health. “Co-location is key” says Lisa. “and local food can provide a hub of activity around which other services and organisations can build.”

One idea we discussed was how food can be a backdrop to identifying particular health needs of local population groups, and help to redress local health inequalities.

For example, prostate cancer is a disease which impacts black and Asian men at twice the rate of white men, yet very few in the black and Asian communities know this or request screening tests from their local GPs. Reaching these communities with information about prostate cancer screening has been very hard to do. But last year the Royal Marsden Hospital in London set up the Man Van, a mobile health clinic that offers free health checks in a private and relaxed environment. An Afro-Caribbean food festival on Health Street could provide an impactful venue for the Man Van.

Given the renewed emphasis within the NHS on community health and prevention driven by the Integrated Care System approach, has Health Street been welcomed by the local NHS Integrated Care Board? Not yet, Lisa tells me, “but as we attract programmes and services into the Health Street spaces this will hopefully change”.

Health Street , Heatherwick Studio's vision of health creation on the high street, will be launched at Lister Gate in Nottingham on Wednesday, March 1st.

Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

February 27, 2023


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