The spaces and environments we design for people to inhabit can often become one of the largest determinants for health and wellbeing. The global pandemic made this even more evident, with a growing global interest in mental and physical health, connection with nature, sustainability and regeneration, and connection to community. When coupled with locally specific issues and the fallout from the pandemic, there is a trend towards a complicated mix of issues that are preventing many small towns from achieving high levels of wellbeing, or from building towards a resilient and prosperous future.
In one of our more recent masterplans for the town centre of North Walsham, a market town in North Norfolk, we carried out a detailed place audit analysis to understand the mosaic of challenges the community was facing, and how to address them through changes to the built environment. North Walsham has a rich history and some of the best historical assets in the UK, as well as a strong sense of community and a unique and long-standing market culture, but struggled with a lack of vitality and poor public realm, limited active travel and a need for a much stronger emphasis on health and wellbeing. We initiated a study with the client and key town stakeholders which went beyond the brief to deliver a mapping exercise that focussed on the elements of the existing public realm that support or hinder the health and wellbeing of the people who use and visit North Walsham. The guidelines for this work were extracted and adapted from The WELL Building Community Standard, a global benchmark for healthy communities that we use in all of our wellness-integrated masterplans. For North Walsham, there was a special focus on the following:
- Pedestrian Movement & Support for Active Travel
- Community & Sense of Place
- Nature & Restorative Spaces
- Nourishment & Water
- Waste & Resources
When combined with our knowledge of how architecture, design and the built environment interact with wellbeing, our analysis through a wellness lens helped us to derive a ‘healthy cities’ visioning masterplan and key design strategies to support moves towards a healthier, thriving community for North Walsham, establishing working methods and recommendations that can be used as the basis for change in other towns across the UK.