WELLCOMM (Wellbeing and Communities)

Using data from cohort studies to explore the long-term benefits of community activities for wellbeing

Culture, arts and community engagement can benefit wellbeing, but how do our neighbourhoods influence our participation?

In this project we analysed data from six cohort studies on health and community participation to explore the long-term benefits of community activities for wellbeing: arts participation, culture and heritage, sports and nature activities, volunteering and community groups. A key focus in this project was on geography, so whether different neighbourhoods had different levels of engagement and benefit from community activities.  As the COVID-19 pandemic took place during this study, we also looked at the impact of the pandemic on community engagement and participation.

Key findings

  • Arts participation more than once per week is associated with higher life satisfaction, lower levels of mental distress, and better mental functioning in the long term while engaging in sports and physical activity 1-3 days a week is associated with greater levels of physical functioning, general health, and vitality
  • In particular, the benefits of arts participation and cultural engagement on mental distress and life satisfaction hold after controlling for variables like gender, demographic background, socio-economic characteristics, health behaviour and support from family and friends.
  • But there are differences in participation based on geographical factors such as where we live and the characteristics of our neighbourhoods such as area deprivation

Summaries and resources

A briefing summarising the findings from WELLCOMM related to arts and cultural engagement.

What Works Centre for Wellbeing briefings.

A short guide for Link Workers.

A review on COVID-19, mental health, and the role of arts and cultural engagement.

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing published a blog on some of our key findings.

Impact and media

Dr Karen Mak and the team were awarded the Royal Society for Public Health Journal Award in 2022 for their work on this project around volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Mak H,W., Coulter, R., & Fancourt, D. (2022) Relationships between volunteering, neighbourhood deprivation and mental wellbeing across four British birth cohorts: Evidence from 10 years of the UK Household Longitudinal Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. [DOI] .

M Mak HW, Fancourt D (2021) Do socio-demographic factors predict children’s engagement in arts and culture? Comparisons of in-school and out-of-school participation in the Taking Part Survey. PLoS ONE 16(2): e0246936. [DOI]

Mak, H.W., & Fancourt, D.  (2021) Predictors of engaging in voluntary work during the COVID-19 pandemic: analyses of data from 31,890 adults in the UK. Perspectives in Public Health. [DOI]

Mak, H.W., Coulter, R., & Fancourt, D (2021). Associations between neighbourhood deprivation and engagement in arts, culture and heritage: evidence from two nationally representative samples. BMC Public Health. [DOI]

Mak, H.W., Coulter, R., & Fancourt, D. (2020). Patterns of social inequality in arts and cultural participation: Findings from a nationally representative sample of adults living in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. WHO Public Health Panorama. [DOI]

Mak, H.W., Coulter, R. & Fancourt, D. (2020). Does arts and cultural engagement vary geographically? Evidence from the UK Household Longitudinal Study. Public Health, 185, 119-126. [DOI]


What Works Centre for Wellbeing and the Economic and Social Research Council

Programme areas

Epidemiology, behavioural science



Research Team

Dr Daisy Fancourt

Dr Karen Mak

Dr Marie Polley (Social Prescribing Network)

Deborah Hardoon (What Works Centre for Wellbeing)