Community Champions: healthy living, shaped by residents

Community Champions: healthy living, shaped by residents

Community Champions: healthy living, shaped by residents 1920 1668 Karishma Puri

Born within a fortnight of the first COVID-19 lockdown, Community Champions was set up to help tackle health inequalities identified by Public Health. We interviewed the Regent’s Park Community Champions to find out how they’ve been making improvements to their estate. This brand new initiative is funded by Public Health Camden and Islington and puts power in the hands of residents. Volunteers, or Community Champions, shape the projects and decide how money is spent within their own community. James Easey, the coordinator for Kentish Town Community Champions (which is based within Elfrida Rathbone, Camden) says, “We thought of trying something where residents can volunteer to design their own health and wellbeing initiatives, because actually, residents know best what they need.”

The journey of each Community Champion is unique, based on how they want to contribute and what their passions are. James explains, “All you really need is to care about the health and wellbeing of your local area. Some people who don’t have much time may come and support other people’s events. Others, who have more time or a specific passion, could focus on one area and devote their time to that, eventually leading their own project.”

A volunteer’s journey

Rachel is a lifelong Camden resident and has been an active volunteer with Community Champions for the past year. She has been empowered by the programme to promote healthy eating – which is one of Camden’s missions for the borough – leading on healthy eating projects including food parcels with recipes, cooking classes for teenagers and fruit giveaways in playgrounds. She also runs the Real Food Project, workshops where Regent’s Park residents can learn to cook healthy meals on a budget and make their favourite dishes healthier.

Rachel has seen the positive impacts of her cooking classes, seeing “parents enjoying the food that the kids cook in the class so much that they start cooking it at home as well”, and her first referral of a resident from their GP recently.  

Rachel catered for a Family Fun Day event on her estate. “A real problem on my estate is that nobody speaks to anyone. There’s not really a sense of community. This event brought everyone out of their homes, and gave them a reason to spend time with each other – with food because that always works, it’s a good icebreaker.” 

Large-scale change is needed

Rachel feels passionately about the bad habits created around food and how policy could change. She explains, “Though the sugar tax is kind of a step in the right direction, [the government] need to also promote newer ideas around eating as well. There are still a lot of people stuck in a very old-fashioned way of what healthy eating is and isn’t.”

Healthy eating, on a budget

The next project in the pipeline is a six-week course on promoting healthy eating on a budget. Rachel explains: “We will look at menu planning, writing a menu and then being able to use leftovers from that and make something the next day will save lots of money. Importantly, it will also teach how to adjust traditional foods to make them more healthy. This will allow people who prefer foods from their own culture to make small adjustments and tweaks to allow for a healthier, balanced meal.”

Rachel recently won funding from Camden Giving’s ‘We Make Camden Kit’ grant. With the continued support of the Community Champions programme, Rachel is hoping to continue her initiative.

You can get involved too!

James encourages people to get involved with local activities and change the things they might be unhappy with. “There’s a lot of funding and initiatives in Camden. If you think something is bad, get involved. Even if you feel like it’s not for you – it is. If you’re worried that language is a barrier, it isn’t, there is always a workaround.”

Apply for funding for your idea

Have a great idea for your community? Like Rachel, you can apply for funding using the We Make Camden Kit which gives money and support to Camden citizens and community groups who want to start projects or initiatives. We’ve already awarded over 30 grants, so why not apply!

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