Blogs 21.12.2022

Regeneration in Stevenage and the value of research and partnership

In this blog, we speak to Candice Bryan, the former health and sport strategy manager at Stevenage Borough Council, who discusses the benefits of partnering with ARC East of England researchers to create more opportunities that impact the health of Stevenage residents across the life course.

Stevenage, one of the first New Towns that was created off the back of The Second World War, is benefitting from a major 20-year regeneration programme worth nearly £1bn which promises to reinvigorate the town centre and surrounding areas. This regeneration plan includes the creation of 7,300 new properties by 2028, improved transport and connectivity links and more sports and leisure facilities.¹

During this transformative time in Stevenage, the regeneration plan creates further opportunities to collaborate with partners and integrate evidence-based research into the new developments that reflect the needs of Stevenage residents.

Below is an interview with Candice Bryan, health and sport strategy manager at Stevenage Borough Council, that took place on the 26th of October 2022. Since November 2022, Candice has left her position and is now working for Barnet Council as Public Health Strategist.

Please introduce yourself and your role at Stevenage Borough Council

My name is Candice Bryan and I fulfil the role of health and sport strategy manager at Stevenage Borough Council. The main purpose of my role is to lead, manage and provide strategic direction to the Council on a range of wellbeing, leisure, health and sports development activities. Currently, my focus areas are the implementation of the council's health and wellbeing strategy, delivery of Hertfordshire Public Health district partnership projects and supporting the work of NIHR ARC EoE to ensure research translates to a wide range of population health and social care needs.


Candice Bryan, former health and sport strategy manager at Stevenage Borough Council

I manage strategic links and partnerships with a variety of key partners across the sector including Public Health, NHS, local charities, voluntary organisations and the community to improve health and wellbeing opportunities in Stevenage.

One of the key tasks of the role is to lead on the development and delivery of the councils Health and Wellbeing Strategy and action plan. I work with key partners, stakeholders and local communities to ensure a coordinated range of projects and services are delivered with high impact and sustainable outcomes. Our Healthy Stevenage 2020-2021 position statement provides examples of the key areas of work and progress made despite the many COVID-related restrictions we faced. Partners adapted their offers, programmes and collaborative efforts to meet the needs of our communities and neighbourhoods to provide health support and activity solutions.   

Another key duty I have is to lead and manage several Hertfordshire public health district partnership projects. This includes leading on; the Young People’s Healthy Hub, which is a single point of access for preventative mental, physical and lifestyle related health and wellbeing support targeting residents aged 11 to 17 years old. I also co-lead on the Whole Systems Approach to Obesity and Health Inequalities, which focusses on one of our most deprived ward with higher incidences of obesity. Here we have used community engagement to understand what it is about the are that prevents residents from leading healthier lives and begin to co-produce solutions to help tackle some of the issues identified. Finally, I have had the pleasure of leading on the newly emerging Place Based Approach to Health Inequalities bringing our primary care network and healthy hub leads together to identify and begin planning how we can tackle and prioritise specific health inequalities that have widened since COVID-19.

What kind of involvement have you had with NIHR ARC East of England and how have our researchers supported your projects?

When I joined Stevenage Borough Council in November 2019, the first NIHR ARC EoE research project I quickly became aware of, was the study ‘Addressing Obesity Amongst Young People in Stevenage’.  From this initial research, we gathered that young people in Stevenage were not satisfied with the outdoor sports facilities available across the town- in particular, basketball.

We worked with various partners, including England Basketball, Hertfordshire Basketball Association, A-Z Basketball, Herts Sports Partnership, and wider Stevenage Borough Council Teams to explore how we could develop and improve opportunities for young people to play basketball in Stevenage.

There was a clear strategic link with the need for wider opportunities to play basketball and the need to increase physical activity levels amongst 11–17-year-old via the Young People’s Healthy Hub. So, I presented this to the newly formed Basketball Development Group I had created, and the Young People’s Heathy Hub project team to obtain feedback, which was well received.

Together we funded free basketball coaching delivered by local A-Z basketball club in outdoor parks and green spaces in Stevenage, which was popular amongst children aged 11 to 17. We then worked with our Parks and Open Spaces team to secure additional funding to improve facilities – repainting basketball court lines across all the parks. England Basketball’s presence in our Basketball Development Group provided us the opportunity to learn more about Project Swish, who provide free basketball nets for hoops in parks.


Basketball festival in Hampson park, Stevenage

Due to the NIHR study we were able to increase participation in basketball, improve opportunities for play through facility development and the offer of free coaching. An annual programme of basketball across parks and indoor facilities has now been established and we are looking to provide the opportunity for leadership qualifications for young people to become basketball activators and coaches. You can watch a video about the project here.

Another example of how NIHR researchers have supported Stevenage Borough Council is by joining the Healthy Stevenage Partnership. The partnership oversee the implementation of the health and wellbeing strategy, meeting quarterly to review associated action plans, share partner updates, and explore collaborative approaches to projects. Wendy Wills (Director of ARC East of England) and her research team at University of Hertfordshire frequently present research studies linked to key strategic priorities, to raise awareness amongst sector partners and explore how we can effectively move research into actionable projects and interventions.

This level of involvement has added huge value to the work of the partnership and demonstrates one of the key principles of our strategic approach, which is using evidence based research to support our partnership work.

Having strong evidence-based academic research that supports partnership funding bids and proposals has really benefitted us to get projects underway.

Candice Bryan, former health and sport strategy manager at Stevenage Borough Council

One example of this is the collaborative work with one of our Healthy Stevenage partner organisations BeeZee Bodies who worked with your team on the development of co-production in BZB services and ethnography research. Our work with the ARC and University of Hertfordshire has successfully influenced and encouraged key stakeholders and wider Stevenage Borough Council teams to embed research into their work streams and engage more widely with your researchers.

The other area where the ARC has supported us is through the creation and development of the Dementia Involvement Group. We do not always have the capacity to go out and build the relationships with community groups and residents. However, the ARC provided us with multiple opportunities to understand more about the lived experience of people living with Dementia in Stevenage.


Stevenage Dementia Involvement group

Because the ARC team created the Stevenage Dementia Involvement group, we were able to build on the council’s aspirations to become a Dementia Friendly Town and create a Healthy Stevenage Dementia sub-group with voices from the community.  We partnered with the ARC research team to look at how physical activity can improve the quality of life for people living with dementia. As a result of the study, residents of Stevenage living with dementia and those who care for them can now learn about a range of local activities for physical and mental well-being with the launch of a new booklet.

It has been a real pleasure to work with NIHR ARC EoE at Stevenage Borough Council and I look forward to continued work with NIHR ARC teams in the future.





End notes

  • Find all Hertfordshire-based ARC East of England research projects here.
  • For queries concerning this blog, contact