Large scale employers and organisations can contribute to Bedford residents’ wellbeing

Borough Hall entrance

‘Anchor institutions’, such as large-scale employers and organisations that control large areas of land, often have aims and objectives that are focused towards improving the health and lives of the local community, a meeting heard.

A paper presented to the Health and Wellbeing Board last week (Wednesday 8 December) said that anchor institutions are tied to the local place by their mission, histories, physical assets, and local relationships.

Ian Brown, chief officer for public health at Bedford Borough Council, said he was asked to explain the concept of anchor institutions, which he said is something “we all inherently get, but maybe we haven’t named it as such.”

“The concept of anchor institutions is one where we have these organisations that have a really important presence in their place, and that’s usually about being a large-scale employer, big purchasers of goods and services, and they control land and assets as well in the community,” he said.

“They often have aims and objectives as well that are focused towards improving the health and lives of the local community.

“That includes things like the NHS, local authorities, universities, and some of our large local businesses as well that have been around for a very long time,” he added.

“And also, of course, the combined activities of our community and voluntary sector as well.”

The Board was told that there are “significant” opportunities for anchor institutions to improve the health and wellbeing of communities through the way that they employ, procure goods and services, how they use their estates and assets, and by prioritising environmental sustainability.

Mr Brown said: “And it’s great when we can do that as individual organisations, but when we do it together there are even greater opportunities for impact and scale.”

The paper set out five different ways in which local organisations can work as anchor institutions.

These are employment, procurement and commissioning, the use of capital assets and estates, the way they can prioritise environmental sustainability, and how they work as a partner in place.

Mr Brown gave some examples of how the Council was an anchor institution. One was its COVID response when it employed local people to be part of its contact tracing team

He said: “We’ve trained them up, and some of those people have now taken on permanent roles in our team moving forward.

“So that’s obviously contributing to their well-being, they feel like they’re making a difference for our local community, and they’re making a difference to our team and our team resilience as well.

“Using the council’s social value in our procurement, for example, ensuring that our providers are providing work experience to local young people and they are using sustainable materials in their work,” he added.

Commenting on the paper, Kate Walker, director of adult services, said: “I know that there’s been some really good work across all services in the council.

“But if we widen that out and look for support from other places then I think the anchor institutions can really make inroads to supporting our local population in neighbourhoods,” she said.

Chair, Cllr Louise Jackson (Labour, Harpur Ward), told the Board that she had attended a previous meeting when anchor institutions were talked about in terms of housing.

“I think if COVID-19 has done anything positive at least it has actually accelerated those conversations that we probably always wanted to have.

“But perhaps people across the system weren’t necessarily listening about the importance of working with our anchor institutions to improve the health of the people that we serve.

“And this is a really important part of what this Board should, and certainly can, be doing going forward, so I really welcome this,” she said.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter