Resilience Spotlight – Hartcliffe Health and Environment Action Group and Sue Walker

The Resilience Spotlight is an initiative of the Resilience Action Group (one of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership Action Groups). Every month in 2015, the group will invite nominations for someone in the city who demonstrates how we can work at a local level to develop Bristol’s capacity to respond to shocks and stresses. 

This month’s theme was Health and Wellbeing and we were looking for people or organisations that promote measures to improve health and wellbeing, develop ways to combat and respond to health issues and create community-led health services/provision. 

Hartcliffe Health and Environment Action Group is a well-established community development group, managed by a committee of local residents. It is designed to provide opportunities and support for people in the Dundry View Neighbourhood partnership area to engage in a range of health-related and environmental projects for healthy and sustainable lifestyles. Find out more.

In 1989, a group of local health and community workers in Hartcliffe came together because they were concerned about the health of people living in the area. A social work student helped them to conduct a survey with 196 local people, covering topics such as housing, recreation, play facilities, money, health services, community services, the environment and transport.

Two public meetings were called to discuss these results and a committee was formed, bringing together residents and community workers.  This grew into the Hartcliffe Health and Environment Action Group (HHEAG), with local people identifying the deep connection between health and the environment.  The group began by tackling issues such as poor housing quality, the high rate of mental health issues in the area and local unemployment.

Walking Group

25 years later, I have arranged to meet Sue Walker (Co-ordinator at HHEAG) who has been with the organisation since 1994, and Bobby, a local resident, who has been using the group’s services for the last year. When I approached Sue about this interview, she requested that one of their participants joined us because they are a community development organisation and, as she notes in the interview, “HHEAG provides the tools for change but it’s the local people who put them into action.” She also emphasises that it is not about HHEAG deciding what needs to be done – all of their work is shaped by listening to local needs and responding to demand.



These activities include:

  • Cooking courses and nutritional advice, including healthy eating on a budget and how to manage a diet related condition.
  • The Food for all Co-op, which increases access to affordable, healthy and local food
  • Two Community Gardens, providing access to growing space, the chance to gain new skills and go home with fresh produce (all without chemical fertilisers)
  • Positive Minds, one-to-one mental wellbeing support for local adults
  • Walking for Health, a programme providing led walks (for all abilities) planned and led by local people who are trained walk-leaders
  • Stop Smoking, a smoking cessation service for any adult in the area.

Of course, the help that HHEAG provides is not limited to these services. Sue recalls the food outreach worker helping some elderly customers to set up their TVs after the swap to digital and delivering tea bags from the co-op during cold spells! She is also keen to highlight that while these are separate projects, the group takes a holistic and integrated approach, recognising the connections between mental wellbeing, physical health, diet, exercise, social isolation and the local environment.

Haul from HHEAG allotments

Both Sue and Bobby say that they don’t really use resilience as a term very often but that they do see it as related to community development or capacity-building as these enable local people to share skills, knowledge and networks to start to tackle certain problems. Bobby is also keen to share how HHEAG has helped her own personal resilience. She has been using the Positive Minds programme for the last year due to her struggle with anxiety. She credits the tools that she has been taught, as well acupuncture from a volunteer GP, as enabling her to go on holiday earlier this year: “That would have been impossible to even imagine two years ago!”

Bobby notes that one of the best things about HHEAG is that it is an easy place to start when you want help; “You feel like nobody is judging you, there are no right or wrong answers and they just listen. I realised I wasn’t on my own.” It’s this ‘friendly face’ that HHEAG provides that makes it an excellent place for people to take the first steps towards getting help. This happens either through the variety of services available at HHEAG or through referral to other services in the local community, from doctors to support groups for single parents.

So much of HHEAG’s work also delivers skills development alongside its other benefits; from learning about growing food to gaining certification. For example, Bobby has been completing a food hygiene certificate, as well as an English class; “Now when I fill out a CV, I have a few things to put on it rather than just ‘Mum’. Because that’s all I had, which doesn’t really get you a job does it!”

The diversity of their work reflects the understanding of the need for a systemic approach to change that lies at the heart of HHEAG. This has been in place since its inception, as Sue explains: “Right at the beginning, when the local people were asked what they wanted to call the group, they said: ‘it’s not just about our health. It’s about the environment in which we live and how the two interact.’ In my research, I couldn’t find another organisation at that time – in the whole of the country – that had linked the two together.”

Kim Dowsett, Vice-Chair of the Resilience Action Group, says: “HHEAG’s work is a perfect example of the development of health and wellbeing resilience in a local community. By getting together as a community to understand the local health needs, know who is vulnerable, and why, this group is able to develop relationships, skills and services that encourage both community and personal resilience.”