Kent: using health and wellbeing shop to reach out to communities facing health inequalities

A health and wellbeing shop has been operating from a popular shopping mall in Kent, thanks to a partnership between the community NHS trust, county council and a borough council. 

A health and wellbeing shop has been operating from a popular shopping mall in Kent for the past five years thanks to a partnership between the community NHS trust, county council and a borough council. 

The shop is part of the wider One You Kent healthy lifestyle service, which provides the local population with access to a whole range of services and support. 

Why Kent tried something different

One You Kent helps people to lose weight, get active, quit smoking, reduce how much alcohol they are drinking and feel better about life.

The service is commissioned by Kent County Council and provided by different providers across Kent, including Kent Community Health NHS Trust and the borough councils. Clients can either refer themselves for support or other health or social care professionals can also refer on their behalf.

The One You Kent shop opened in 2017 in the Park Mall shopping centre in Ashford to make it easier for residents to access support.

The area has some of the highest rates of smoking and obesity with poor health outcomes for residents as a result. Ashford Borough Council provided the shopping unit and One You staff from Kent Community Health NHS Trust staff the shop.

One You Kent Shop Health Improvement Project Officer, Donna Wilks, said:

The shopping centre has a high footfall so it seemed a great concept to pilot. We wanted to capture the attention of people who were out shopping to think about their lifestyles. It’s been designed so people can just drop in. We have advisers who can talk to people who call in and set up a plan to improve their lifestyles. It is that immediate.

The shop is over two storeys and includes three clinic rooms and a larger space with cooking facilities. It means exercise classes and cookery classes can be provided on site alongside the health MOTs, smoking cessation support and blood pressure checks that are offered.

“It is a really flexible service,” Ms Wilks said. “We find some people just call in to get themselves weighed, check their blood pressure and chat to our advisers about the progress they are making, while others have signed up to a wide range of support and make use of the sessions provided at the site. It really depends on the individual.”

One You Kent work with a variety of partners both at the shop including Fareshare, which provides food boxes and vouchers and mental health charities.

‘The shop went from strength-to-strength’

The shop has gone from strength-to-strength since it started. “It was initially set up as a six-month pilot. We operated from a much smaller unit in the shopping centre, but moved to the current premises as we need more space to keep up with demand,” said Ms Wilks.

Before the pandemic the shop was seeing between 400 to 500 visitors a month. Nearly a third of people visiting the shop came from the six most deprived wards in Ashford.

Ms Wilks added: “We are taking it step-by-step getting back to normal after the pandemic. We know there’s lots of demand out there – some people’s health has deteriorated during the pandemic, while others are more motivated to stay healthy.

We have been supporting GPs with blood pressure checks and the probation service has started to run a women’s brunch club at the shop for women on probation so they can see their support workers in a more relaxed, accessible setting. They are attended by one of our lifestyle advisers who can link them in with the wellbeing support One You provides.

Kent Community Health NHS Trust Chair, John Goulston, said: “The success of the One You shop is testament to the staff who work there and to the partnership working of health authorities, county council and borough council to help improve the health and wellbeing of the people who live in the Ashford area.

It is also an example of how health and care play a role in helping to regenerate our high streets. This is becoming increasingly significant in responding to the challenges facing town centres as a result of the pandemic.

And Kent Director of Public Health Anjan Ghosh said: “We know that people lead very busy lives and won’t necessarily have the opportunity or feel they have the need to be checked for underlying health issues.

But post-COVID, there is even more need to help people make healthier lifestyle choices. This One You shop allows us to work together as service providers and get into the heart of the community.

Cllr Peter Feacey, Ashford Borough Council Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Wellbeing, said he agreed, adding:

The past two years have seen a huge impact on our national healthcare system and I believe that delivering such schemes on our high streets can have a big impact. Ashford’s One You shop enables people to easily access the support and advice they need to live healthier lives.

Contact details
Donna Wilks
Health Improvement Project Officer
One You Kent Shop