Social environment


  • When planning for new communities, it is important to understand and make provision for the factors that contribute to developing the social environment alongside planning for the more visible aspects of the physical environment such as community facilities[1].
  • Aspects that contribute to the social environment are social capital, social cohesion and social infrastructure.
  • Social capital can be described as the collective value of a person’s social networks which are a key aspect of mental wellbeing and of stronger healthier connected communities.  Approaches known to be effective in building social capital are those that help people increase social contacts, engage in community activities and contribute to their local community[2]. It can be enhanced by improving community participation in local governance[3].
  • Social infrastructure is made up of a number of components: community development work; community facilities; groups and organisations; grant funding; learning and skills development; volunteering and other mutual support.
  • The need to put in place mechanisms for building social capital and for community support in order to create a sense of belonging for people was identified in the report on New Towns[4].  Voluntary organisations and the church were seen as means to encourage integrated communities.  Posts with a neighbourhood base were developed to foster social relationships and help the new residents to settle into their new homes and communities.
  • Effective community engagement is dependant on the existence of both community and organisational capacity[5].
  • A conclusion of a review conducted in Cambourne in 2005[6] is that planners and housing providers need to do everything in their power to create the conditions in which social capital can flourish and trust can be built.


[1] Building Communities that are Healthy and Well in Cambridgeshire, Cambridge City and South Cambs Improving Health Partnership with Cambridge Council for Voluntary Services (June 2008).

[2] Social Capital for health; issues of definition, measurement and links to health, HDA 2004.

[3]  Skidmore P, Bound K, Lownsbrough H (2006). Community Participation: Who Benefits? York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

[4] Transferable lessons from the New Towns, Department for Communities and Local Government, July 2006.

[5] Popay J Community engagement and community development and health improvement: a background paper for NICE 2006 (available on request by emailing or

[6] Cambourne: a sustainable community? South Cambridgeshire District Council, Nov 2005