Professor Gordon Walker, Lancaster University

Extreme weather events like floods and heatwaves are becoming increasingly frequent and intense in the UK due to climate change. This project aims to evaluate how groups of people within diverse communities can act to reduce the health consequences of extreme weather events, including as part of climate adaptation. Community-led action in preventing flood impacts, and in helping to deal with heatwaves or extreme cold weather, can in principle keep people safe and reduce the health burden especially on particularly vulnerable or hard to reach populations. However, the benefits of community-led action, including in terms of addressing health inequalities, have not been well-documented. Our project, led by Exeter University with a consortium of researchers from Lancaster (lilac), Bristol and Teeside Universities (FUSE), seeks to learn lessons from how community action has worked in the past, and to evaluate its success for health purposes.


What the research will do

The research will first document the nature and extent of past and current community-led actions on flood, heat, and cold, and gather evidence on how effective they have been in preventing and reducing public health burdens and improving wellbeing. We will review documented cases, engage with key stakeholders across English regions, and survey those involved in relevant community-led action and the voluntary sector. Throughout this work we will pay attention to whether or not inclusivity in processes and equity in health outcomes meaningfully feature and the challenges this raises. This work will help the project to develop and maintain a network of practitioners whose expertise will inform the project and enhance its impact.


The second part of the research involves in-depth evaluation of three cases of community action to prevent avoidable health burdens associated with extreme weather. These might include, for example, the provision of community cool or warm spaces, local learning and education initiatives focused on how to stay safe and well during extreme events, or a community group providing advice and sourcing funding for home retrofits. The case evaluations will use in-depth interviews and group discussions both with community members involved in the actions and with wider stakeholders supporting them (such as local authorities and public health teams). The research will therefore document multiple perspectives on what constitutes success and how best to design or help communities undertake and lead actions to prevent health and wellbeing burdens from weather extremes.


What we will deliver

Overall, the research will deliver important insights on how different forms of community-led action can reduce the health burdens from weather extremes, which are expected to increase with climate change. These insights will form the foundations for a planned further two years of research that will collaborate with communities and other stakeholders to create, design, and evaluate brand new community-led actions for supporting better health and wellbeing in contexts of extreme weather.


This study is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) School for Public Health Research (SPHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care

Professor Gordon Walker is Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Science and Technology at Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University.  His research interests centre on the social, spatial, temporal and normative dimensions of environment, sustainability, climate and risk issues.