Headlines: March 18th, 2005

More money is being made available for initiatives designed to improve the health of local communities. Initially 21 pilot projects will share a total of 1.2 million pounds for a range of schemes tackling everything from obesity to sexual health and reducing smoking. More money will be made available in the coming financial year and a national roll out is planned in 2006.The Communities for Health programme is being developed in line with the objectives in the Public Health White Paper, which sets out to improve health in the country’s most disadvantaged areas, some of which have the same death rate as the national average figure in the 1950s.

The schemes to benefit from the funding are those that promote the growing opportunities available to people to choose healthy options, through raising awareness and understanding or by offering new services, or that show effective partnership working in practice, ideally involving groups other than the traditional health service and local government bodies.

Examples include faith communities, sports clubs, Trade Unions, employers and the retail trade as well as local newspapers and radio stations. There will also be recognition for projects that communicate in ways that are more accessible and that show more creative approaches to getting across messages about healthier living.

Health Minister Melanie Johnson said where people lived could have a significant, often negative, impact on their health. For that reason the Spearhead Group of areas with the worst deprivation had been established as a focus for action.

She said the money was going to some innovative projects, including a scheme in Gateshead to bring a disused Victorian garden back to life so that children and older people could grow fruit and vegetables. “This will help encourage physical activity in the local population and improve knowledge of healthy eating . This is the type of local action that alongside national programmes such as the school fruit and vegetable scheme, can really make a difference,” the minister said.