Skip to main content

Working with faith groups to promote health and wellbeing

There is a growing body of research which shows how faith groups can have a positive impact on both the health of their members and wider communities. In a few areas, councils are starting to develop a comprehensive approach to working with faith groups to tackle local health problems, and thereby making the best use of joint resources. In many others, councils and health partners have developed specific projects and services with faith-based organisations. However, across the board, there is much more that public health can do to tap into, and support, the assets that faith groups provide.

Working with faith groups is part of assetbased strategic planning which councils and health and other partners are pursuing in health and wellbeing boards (HWBs) through Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (JSNA) and Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategies (JHWS). Strategic engagement with faith groups means public health can involve parts of the community that may be considered ‘hard to reach’. Through this, their work can be shaped to fit the needs of diverse communities who may face health inequalities, thus contributing to the Public Health Outcomes Framework.

Faith groups can generally be considered as part of the voluntary and community sector (VCS) of any area. In fact they make up a sizeable subgroup within that sector. National charity and think tank NPC estimates that, overall, more than a quarter of charities in the UK have an association with faith (Wharton and de Las Casas, 2016). Faith groups also have a distinctive approach through their spiritual values. For many, the actions they are taking to help others is based in love and service to a higher source, whatever form that may take. This means that many will undertake their work with great dedication and long-term commitment.

There are advantages for faith groups in closer relationships with local authorities, the NHS and the wider VCS sector. Many tend to operate in isolation, so partnerships can improve their offer to their communities through opportunities to access training for staff and volunteers, and support with policies and procedures such as health and safety.

They will also achieve a better understanding of the wider health, care and wellbeing needs of the local area, and will have an opportunity to contribute their views to strategic and local planning. Should they wish to apply for any funding opportunities, they will have the information and contacts to do so.

The national organisation, FaithAction, advises that the relationship between faith groups and councils should be based on mutual respect and a two-way process of information and support (2014). It notes a distinction that has been made between ‘faith-based’ action which springs from faith groups recognising and addressing the needs in their communities – such as setting up a lunch club for homeless people – and ‘faith-placed’ action in which external organisations carry out interventions – such as running smoking cessation sessions for faith group members. Ideally both types of action will be brought together through collaborative working. The purpose of this report is to suggest how this can be achieved. In particular, it will cover:

  • the ways in which faith groups can improve health outcomes and tackle health inequalities
  • how councils, their health partners and faith groups can all benefit from joint working
  • barriers to collaboration and how they can be tackled
  • suggestions for how effective partnerships and activity can be established, including through adopting the national Faith Covenant.

The report draws on research and studies about the role of faith groups in contributing to health and wellbeing and wider social action. It also highlights examples of good practice from across the country, and from different faiths, to demonstrate the wide range of activity taking place. It includes messages from discussions with many public health professionals involved in working with faith groups, and from representatives of these groups.

Based on a broad vision of good practice, the report includes questions for councils and faith groups to assess whether there is more that can be done to work well together. It also signposts to useful resources for further learning and action.