Background: A decade of cuts to public services and the COVID pandemic have impacted the social infrastructure supporting connection and networking among communities. Although UK Levelling Up agendas advocate investment in physical infrastructure for economic prosperity, there are calls for a greater focus on the creation of community-led social infrastructure to address growing public health concerns, such as social isolation and loneliness. This paper explores the role of community-led organisations in creating social infrastructure and its impacts on the health and wellbeing of disadvantaged populations. Methods: Interviews took place with 130 members of 12 community-led third sector organisations in Scotland with different spatial and social disadvantages. Interviewees were recruited through targeted and snowballing techniques, and included 25 staff, 27 volunteers, 11 board members, and 67 service users who commented on the effects of the organisations’ activities on their health and wellbeing. To identify types of sociality created through social infrastructure, data was analysed and mapped through thematic coding techniques using social capital theory. Written and verbal consent was gained from all research participants and Ethical approval was granted by Glasgow Caledonian Ethics Committee. Findings: Findings showed that the activities of organisations had the most prominent effect on the social wellbeing of service users, including increased social networks, sense of belonging, and decreased instances of social isolation and loneliness. These led to wider positive mental and physical health impacts, such as decreased depression and increased mobility. Community organisations created key social infrastructures that were found to facilitate bonding, bridging, and linking capital as a result of increased opportunity to form meaningful social connections and relationships. Interpretation: This study shows the importance of community-led organisations in creating and maintaining vital social infrastructure for populations facing social and spatial disadvantage. Such information is important to inform policy and practice of ways in which third sector organisations can be supported to provide alternative or complementary provision that exists alongside formal public healthcare in a time where finding social as well as economic solutions for post COVID recovery is a strategic priority.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Medicine