Hertfordshire: a network of healthy hubs in community locations

A network of healthy hubs has been set up across Hertfordshire on high streets, in leisure centres, at food banks and in community halls to take health and wellbeing services out to the public.

A network of healthy hubs has been set up across Hertfordshire on high streets, in leisure centres, at food banks and in community halls to take health and wellbeing services out to the public.

The hubs provide advice and guidance for everything from weight management and debt advice to mental health problems.

From a virtual offer to in-person work

Initially conceived in 2019 as a two-year project, the Healthy Hub Programme is a partnership between Hertfordshire County Council and the 10 district councils. The hubs are funded by the county council, but run locally by the district and borough councils with the idea of tailoring services to meet the needs of each area.

Funding began in April 2019 and was due to end in March 2021 when the hubs were aiming to be self-sustaining. The programme was derailed by the COVID pandemic, which meant that the hubs had to close all physical venues and in-person services, but they were able to offer virtual support during the initial phases of the pandemic before a relaxation of the rules allowed some face-to-face work resume.

The COVID-safe digital offering was a great success. It primarily focused on individual online and virtual support, with hubs offering telephone, email and video consultations. But over the past year the hubs have really been able to get established in local communities, helping more than 4,500 people in the process.

They act as a free one-stop shop for health and wellbeing information, advice and support. It has been left up to the district councils to decide which services they can host and which they signpost too.

Most work with the charity Mind to provide mental health support and counselling. There is also support for weight management and healthy eating, drug and alcohol dependency and some offer free NHS Health Checks.

The hubs have also helped residents access the Citizens Advice service, get in touch with the local foodbanks and find and join community groups and activities. 

How the model evolved

The original idea was to have the hubs in fixed sites, but the learning from the pandemic taught Hertfordshire that a model that allowed more outreach work to hard-to-reach populations was critical. So instead the hubs will now be running from a variety of locations.  

Hertfordshire County Council Health Improvement Lead, Fiona Deans, who runs the Healthy Hubs Programme, said: “We have found, with the lifting of COVID restrictions, districts have started delivering pop-up hubs in a range of different places. Sometimes it is just for a couple of afternoons in one location before moving on to the other. It really depends what works best in that community.

“For example, in St Albans the council offices are in the heart of the town in a great building that can host a number of organisations, so that is where they have set up, while in Hertsmere they have space on the high street in a retail unit used by a voluntary sector organisation.

“The one in Stevenage, which was the first one and predates the pandemic, is in the leisure centre, which is near the train station. That works well as a permanent venue, but in other areas they have alternated locations, using food banks, community halls and libraries.

The great thing about working with the districts is that they know their local areas best, they know the good locations where there is good footfall and which partners are best to work with to get in extra support.

“It has also allowed us to learn from what works best. For example, from April all the districts will have a hub coordinator – where that post has been in place we have had the best results. We are also going to start having a core offer, which will help residents and professional stakeholders understand what every hub will offer as a minimum so they know what they can access.”

‘It’s so rewarding making a difference’

Those working at the hubs say the support they have been able to provide has been invaluable.

Tyler Osborne, the Healthy Hub Officer in Dacorum, said:

When we first reopened within the centre, we only saw a handful of people in-person. But this has grown significantly and the demand for support is continuing to increase

“We are seeing multiple issues are affecting clients – which in turn is affecting their mental health. We use our Making Every Contact Count training so we are in a position to refer clients to the most relevant support for them – this could be our Live Well Dacorum project with Mind, the Hertfordshire talking therapies service or their own GP.

“We have received some great feedback. For example, a client we had signposted to the stop smoking service got in touch to thank us for our professionalism and to let us know they have now quit smoking permanently. It’s especially rewarding when we know we are making a difference.” 

Another person who has been helped is Georgia (not her real name) who was referred to the hub by her GP with a BMI of 37. The hub spoke to Georgia about her situation, employing motivational interviewing and behaviour change techniques before taking her through some options.

She signed up for the 12-week weight management course and joined a local gym with suitable fitness classes. Six months later, Georgia has lost a significant amount of weight. She says that she “feels great now” and wishes she had made the lifestyle changes years ago. 

Hertfordshire County Council Public Health Consultant, Louise Savory, said stories such as these show what the impact the healthy hubs can have on residents.

We are taking services to people who need them and serving our hard-to-reach population - that is the key to addressing health inequalities. The hubs are going to be vital in the future.

Contact details
Fiona Deans
Health Improvement Lead
Hertfordshire County Council