Are you a houser?

I am nearing the end of some fascinating work on housing in interwar England (more on this another time…) and quite by chance came across a Catherine Bauer who was highly influential in the US advocating for the poor, recognising the relationship of people with their environment and influencing public policy, particularly around housing and planning. She and her colleagues were known as the ‘housers’. What a great term which is now firmly established in my vocabulary!

In parallel in 1930s London, Elizabeth Denby was key in advocating for the urban poor. She wrote about slum dwellers from their perspective, a radical departure from top down and male dominated approaches of the time, and was the first woman to present at a RIBA conference. With Maxwell  Fry, she designed Kensall House in Ladbroke Grove, offering good quality housing, but also much more in terms of quality of life to its new residents.

But back to the US, and all due respect to their research that helps us understand housing and communities far better, in particular around issues like social capital, architecture and surveillance, defensible space and  the urban environment generally.

The US continues to have some radical approaches to housing highly vulnerable people with complex needs who have fallen outside of the mainstream. To watch a short YouTube film on this click here. Informed by this work, Housing First in England is using a similar model to support individuals and meet their needs in new and innovative ways. Their work has been very well evaluated by respected academics, and to find out more click here.

On the subject of complex and chaotic lives, it was in fact a social worker (interestingly not anyone I know in housing) who first referred me to the biography Stuart: a life backwards, which was also made into a film (and for the foodies amongst you, click here). It seems to me that many of the issues are about housing as much as care and support and I recommend that all my students read it. (As a related aside, there is also a body of research on the importance of the humanities in teaching and learning about public health generally. For a very brief introduction and to access some wider references, click here).

Combined, this shows us once again that housing is an unparalleled cornerstone in people’s lives and on so many levels. That is something that I have never doubted. I do however continue to be amazed and inspired by what people have done in the past and continue to do today with integrity and commitment, often against many odds.

So, are you a houser? Could you be? Could we all do more?

Best wishes, Jill

Dr Ben Goldacre: on politics and evidence based policy

I write this quickly, at the end of my lunch break before re-entering the world of PhD Chapter 7, the relations between EHPs and politicians! My lunch was made more pleasant by the discovery of this video-clip made by Dr Ben Goldacre for the BBC’s  Newsnight programme:

Here Ben argues that our democracy could be improved by more evidence based policy in politics both to improve practice and to better hold our politicians to account if they fail to deliver. All these arguments apply to our own environmental health worlds, but I would differ slightly in that we need to utilise all the research tools available (not just randomised trials) towards better understanding what works and what doesn’t!

In UK election year I thought the video was also a timely reminder of our eBook (page 7) advice on evidence:

  • Tune your ‘warning antennae’ to alert you every time you see terms like evidence or evidence based in a publication or hear someone describe their work in this way;
  • Turn to the references page or challenge the speaker about what they mean by evidence (e.g. what evidence have you used?)?
  • If there are no references, or the publication is poorly referenced, or the references are based on single studies or personal experiences or have been carried out by those with vested interests they might not have declared – treat the ‘evidence’ with extreme caution.

With this in mind, thanks to my colleague Alan for drawing attention to the work of EHP Howard Price of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health who recently uncovered the lack of evidence supporting the claim of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles that British councils were unnecessarily silencing church bells:,38V58,B8770E,BMC6B,1

The work of Professor Paul Almond of Reading University (search for ‘The Dangers of Hanging Baskets’) suggests that countering environmental health ‘myths’ like this from government and the media is not straightforward for many reasons, not least because they reflect key concerns of our late-modern society – e.g. questioning the moral legitimacy of regulators and their right to impose legal controls on society… but my break is over and its time to get back to my own evidence.

With best wishes,


Whatever is a theoretical framework?

This is a question that comes up time and again and Health Promotion Practice (which is currently releasing some of its top read articles as  open access) recently published a paper on Developing a Theoretical Framework for Complex Community-Based Interventions (Angeles et al, 2014).

Developing and applying theoretical frameworks helps continually advance knowledge. The above paper is particularly relevant to many environmental health issues as it looks at complex community interventions. Very briefly summarised, it tells us that we need to start with identifying the essential elements of the interventions, identify variables and how these relate, consider existing models and theoretic frameworks, developing hypothesis, validation and revisions.

Another paper of great interest to environmental health practitioners in this open access release is Writing Well: A Writing Style Checklist to Promote Publication Among Practitioners (Goldman and Schmalz, 2013). It says, “No matter who you are or in what setting you work, you, the frontline practitioner, have something to say that your colleagues and related medical, health, and human and social service professionals, among others, need to hear. We need practitioners—particularly those of you on the frontline—to write about what you’ve done and what you’ve learned. There are knowledge gaps to be filled and issues to be raised that only practitioners, with their day in and day out field experience, can provide.” I for one couldn’t agree more – for an example of a Chartered Institute of Environmental Health publication on effective housing interventions and some reviews, click here and scroll down. Take a look at its chapter templates and think how you could write up your work in this type of format.

You may well wonder why EHRNet haven’t been writing more about this. Well we are! The five of us are currently in the final stages of a research and publication chapter for the forthcoming edition of Clay’s Handbook of Environmental Health due 2016. Issues including theoretical frameworks and writing for publication in environmental health are covered based to an extent on our own experiences, workshops we have delivered and things we have learnt along the way.

We are also meanwhile working on several various publications between us, more on this to follow….


Guest blog: RSPH Student Membership opportunities

Originally posted on Blogging about Public Health and Wellbeing:

The Royal Society for Public Health has launched a brand new student membership package at just £25 and would like to invite you to join!

We are a leading public health organisation with a membership covering all aspects of public health, from microbiology to health promotion and environmental health to nursing. Our vision is that everyone has the opportunity to optimise their health and wellbeing and we are actively involved with advocacy, media campaigns, policy development and projects on behalf of our members and the public.

Our student membership provides a range of benefits to help expand your knowledge and demonstrate your commitment to a career in public health:

  • Browse our brand new jobs board for job opportunities and career profiles
  • Connect with our extensive network of public health professionals and members
  • Compete in a new essay competition open to all graduate students for the chance to be published in…

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Call for papers: Journal of Environmental Health Research

Do you have some work you are interested in publishing in a peer reviewed journal? We are currently seeking papers for the next edition of the Journal of Environmental Health Research. This journal seeks to raise the profile of environmental health work. One of its objectives is to showcase the effective in strategies and interventions of environmental health practitioners in their daily work (with permission from their organisations), which often goes unpublished. You may be interested to hear that Effective Strategies and Interventions – environmental health and the private housing sector was authored very largely by those working at the front line of environmental health practice and now appears on the NICE evidence base, showing how our work is valued.

Such peer reviewed publications are increasingly important in contributing to the evidence base in adding to professional standing and credibility as well as helping locate environmental health more prominently in decision making and resource allocation. You are strongly encouraged to write for JEHR, which seeks to support new as well as established writers and the editor Dr Chris Day would be happy to hear your ideas. We are very well aware that many successful environmental health strategies and interventions never make it to publication, a disservice to the profession. Don’t forget that members of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health are eligible to claim CPD for work like this.

Happy writing!



‘Can do’ councils | Gill Leng Housing Solutions: realising your ambitions

It is easy to look at other people and wonder in awe how they seem to get so much done and it is also easy to find reasons why we can’t do something. Sometimes we can feel trapped by our organisations, our workload and out-of-work commitments. But sometimes, if we are honest, it is down to ourselves to try to make change and lead on something, or it may never get done. Finding time and energy is often about being authentic and true to ourselves in what we believe in and what we value. What we need is more of a ‘can do’ approach. Gill Leng always seems to be someone who remains positive and gets things done and continues to work for better housing and health. Take a look at her blog on how to be a ‘can do’ council, there are lots of useful ideas for public health too.

‘Can do’ councils | Gill Leng Housing Solutions: realising your ambitions.