Background Health and wellbeing are strongly influenced by the physical and social environment, especially in areas of high deprivation. East London contains some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England. The London 2012 bid predicted a legacy of health, economic, and cultural benefits for East London residents. Hosting the Olympics involved substantial changes and improvements to the immediate locality. However, the long-term impact of sporting mega-event regeneration remains unproven, especially in relation to health and wellbeing. This qualitative study explored how lived experiences of the social determinants of health for residents in the Olympic borough of Newham were shaped by the staging of the 2012 Games.
Methods This study is part of a prospective mixed methods project on the health and social legacy of the London Olympic Games. Participants in the quantitative cohort were written to and invited to participate in qualitative data collection immediately after the Games. Narrative family interviews, go-along interviews and video focus group workshops with a total of 66 Newham residents (both adolescents and adults) were used. A narrative analytic approach served to identify and compare accounts of health and wellbeing experiences in terms of neighbourhood change and the spectacle of the Games. The analysis explored how people construct causal accounts and draw upon shared meanings, especially in relation to the lived experiences of the social determinants of health and the interaction between life chances and health-related life choices.
Results Participants’ narratives addressed three main themes: aesthetic improvements to the area, community awareness and pride, and increased security measures. Residents described Newham as an unsafe and run-down place and so making it a temporarily more attractive, socially united and securitised Olympic space was welcomed and had an impact upon their neighbourhood perceptions, interactions and wellbeing. Putting Newham in the Olympic spotlight meant that the social determinants of health that shaped and constrained residents’ day-to-day lives were addressed and improved. However, the enhanced sense of wellbeing was short-lived and once the Olympic spectacle had passed, life in Newham largely reverted back to what it was before.
Conclusion The regeneration activities in Newham served to lessen participants’ sense of social exclusion and seemed to generate a temporary sense of inclusion and respite. These findings challenge claims for an enduring health and social legacy from sporting mega-events and raise questions about the mechanisms by which such interventions might address area deprivation in the long term.
- London Olympic Games