This is an extract from “Understanding the social impacts of the Mayor’s Crowdfunding Programme”, research and analysis on the first two rounds of the Mayor of London’s Crowdfunding programme with Spacehive. Read the full report here.
Perceived improvements in health and well-being were a largely unanticipated effect of involvement with a project in the Mayor’s Crowdfunding Pilot. Health benefits represent a social or non-financial impact that is not just at paucity in literature as much as it is completely devoid of consideration. However, research participants outlined a plethora of positive impacts on health and well-being – particularly mental health – that stemmed from the activity that falls out of the Crowdfunding Programme. One participant attributed the levelling of his bipolar disorder to be being involved in a project, as well as offering the following anecdote regarding an individual coming to be involved with the project work:
“I got an email from a woman whose husband had dementia; she had no support network and was really suffering great depression. She came down, spent time with us […] and later her colleagues told us how the group and what we do had completely changed her life”
Away from formal mental health conditions, all participants reported feelings of satisfaction through involvement in the project. Often this was a function of the greater social reach project delivery gave those involved within their wider community, providing a new and changing social life, unable to be crated through other means. Indeed one participant noted that she couldn’t walk down the street without people saying ‘hello’ to her, giving her, and others a sense of belonging. The discussion of these expansive (and expanding) social networks was reiterated through field observation where the majority of research participants appeared to be at the centre of their respective communities, often stopping to chat with local residents and businesses. This positive effect on social life is undoubtedly a two-way process, existing at the collective as well as the individual level. Indeed, participants spoke of group and wider community effects of making new friends, growing confidence, and the self-worth built through “feeling you’ve done something good and helpful”. One continued:
“It’s exercised my brain […] and really made me feel like I can do things when I put my mind to it. I don’t just feel like a mum anymore”
These well-being impacts also appeared to infiltrate into civic pride and an increased fondness for participants’ and communities’ respective localities. Since the area one spends their time is a significant part of their lives, taking pride in and being proud of that area can have important impacts on individual and collective wellbeing. Unlike other elements of wellbeing discussed above, civic pride and its impacts on the health and wellbeing of a given community is unique since it is usually derived from urban aesthetic rather than that social relations (see Collins 2016). Moreover, place-based intervention and civic pride are also central in improving feelings of safety in local areas, which too has knock-on effects for well-being. This was particularly evident through discussion with one group regarding a community member who would once actively avoid the site of the project, but since the programme feels safer and happier in the area. These ideas are particularly significant for GLA Regeneration more generally, since the approach adopted is generally a place-based one. As one project group noted:
“Part of our work has been putting benches back in. People thought the street drinkers would just come back, but they haven’t because it’s not a neglected place. It’s a loved place that people feel proud of.”
Beyond – but less common than – place-based intervention, civic pride can also emerge from and lead to social interaction and development. This might refer to feeling proud of coming from a certain community or community group, as well as pride in place stemming from the improved community relations in an area, a noted impact of the Programme. The ownership element facilitated through the crowdfund process also appears to have impacted civic pride with one group noting “People really own this […] so they’re really willing it to work and are really proud of what’s happening”. Data from the Regeneration Unit’s beneficiary survey reaffirmed these links between civic pride and wellbeing, with one respondent noting the project had really “put a spring in the step of the people who live in, work in and visit” the area.
Despite these many positive impacts on health and well-being, one participant was quick to make clear that whilst the highs are high, “when you feel sh*t, you feel really sh*it”. Indeed, she went on to say that the extreme time and resource demands of being part of a successful Mayor’s Crowdfunding Programme group hangs as “a bit of a shadow on these sort of community-led projects”. This was reiterated by other project groups who felt that all-or-nothing characteristic of the Spacehive platform used by the Mayor left them feeling anxiety and stress “like nothing felt before”. Three Round 2 participants specifically attributed this stress to the length of the crowdfund period, and the painstaking process of watching numbers go up, and having to sit through “a demoralising dip in the middle”.
The differences between negative health impacts felt by Round 1 and Round 2 participants indicate that the crowdfund itself (not a requirement for funding in Round 1) rather than the project delivery process is responsible for the majority of the stress and anxiety felt. However, for one participant in particular, this stress didn’t stop at the close of the crowdfund, and was in fact worsened at close where £600 was lost because of a lack of insurance on the system to cover failed payment methods. Data from the Regeneration Unit’s survey reaffirmed this grievance, and data from the Spacehive team revealed 5.5% of the total amount of money pledged to projects backed by the GLA as part of the Crowdfunding Programme failed.
Health and well-being effects emerging from involvement in civic crowdfunding projects are a significant and important element for further study.