The Healthy Happy Communities Project (HHCP) runs in disadvantaged areas of Angus, focusing on food and health, particularly for women of childbearing age, pregnant women and the under-fives. It has Healthy Start cafés and community gardening and cooking projects.
HHCP is a partnership between NHS Tayside and Angus Council, collaborating with local communities.
Collaboration between community members and local service providers has been, and continues to be, central to the project. Learning workshops with community members allowed the professionals to learn more about local experiences of health inequalities (particularly maternal and infant nutrition) and together they worked out how to put ideas into action.
This approach was influenced by the successful use of an ‘assets based approach’, which uses existing community knowledge and skills, taken by the Falls Project in Perth & Kinross and Focus on Alcohol in Angus.
Initial local interest and involvement in the project was created through an International Women’s Day event held in Arbroath over two days in spring 2010. HHCP also engaged with local groups to attract and recruit volunteers to support and deliver some project activities.
How it works
HHCP has Healthy Start cafés in Forfar and Brechin, and Cooking Together and Community Allotment projects in Arbroath.
Healthy Start cafés
The first Healthy Start café was set up in Forfar. It is aimed at new mums and mums-to-be. It provides a place where they can meet other mums and receive support and advice on nutrition, health and lifestyle – including breastfeeding and weaning.
Providing peer support is a significant aim of the project. An early years worker and other workers (e.g. breastfeeding support) have also supported the women.
Mums are closely involved with planning activities such as child first aid and baby massage. Healthy snacks are provided at the café and the mums have contributed by making healthy dips and bringing new foods to try.
Brechin Healthy Start café was launched in June 2012, with local parents keen to be involved in how the café might work. Activities there include cooking, baby massage, nursery rhyme time, information for pregnant women, family food advice and talks from various organisations. A healthy snack is provided.
A core group of mums now attend and have been active in drawing in other parents through word of mouth. As with Forfar, peer support has been identified as particularly valuable.
The ‘Healthy Start’ scheme is promoted at both cafes and parents are given support to access the vouchers. Both cafés meet at a community venue.
Community Allotment Project
The Community Allotment Project in Arbroath is aimed at generating more interest in fresh food, making it more affordable and incorporating exercise.
A large part of the allotment is dedicated to growing vegetables and fruit planted by local children and families. Children from local nurseries also have their own growing beds, as do others referred to the project. Parents are encouraged to get involved through their children’s participation at nursery.
Local volunteers support HHCP staff, and many family members have joined the volunteer team.
The allotment activity follows an annual cycle from early spring, for preparing the land and planting, to late August and September for harvesting produce and cooking and eating what has been grown. A harvest celebration is the highlight of the allotment calendar – an opportunity to reflect on the growing year and celebrate what has been nurtured and thrived in the ground. The children particularly like to show what they have successfully grown themselves.
Poor weather conditions are a challenge to the success of the allotment, so staff have explored indoor growing, for example children can plant seeds in class to bring to the allotment later on.
Cooking Together Project
The Cooking Together Project in Arbroath is a peer support programme for young parents and children to learn how to cook together. The project provides a relaxed environment for mums and children to try cooking healthy recipes. It actively promotes healthy food choices for young families. The idea for the project came from discussions with local parents.
Peer educators have been recruited and trained to co-deliver ‘Cooking Together’ sessions. The sessions involve older children (aged 2 to 5) preparing and cooking a healthy snack with parents, while younger children play or watch. The older children enjoy some playtime too while parents are cooking a main meal together which can be taken home to feed the family.
Some child-minders have taken part in the project, and taken recipes and food home to give to parents.
Referrals to the project are taken from health visitors and family support centres. There is a core group of parents that attend with others dropping into sessions as and when they choose.
Cooking Together use produce grown in the allotment.
Engagement with and involvement of the community has been key to the success of HHCP. Peer support has also been an important factor.
Parents gained confidence in designing a programme that worked well, using their own contacts for new members. Being able to participate and influence the activities of the cafés has increased the confidence of participants.
Mums have developed relationships with other mums that continue outwith the group, and young mums have made contact with other toddler groups which they may have lacked the confidence to attend in the past.
Families are growing their own vegetables which they can cook at home. Children and parents are learning new skills and gaining knowledge around cooking and nutrition, and young mums have learned that their babies and children will eat a variety of different foods, especially when weaning.