Senior Consultant in Geriatric Medicine Clinical Director
Population Health & Community Transformation
Khoo Teck Puat Hospital & Yishun Health Clinical Director
Population Health, Woodlands Health Campus & Regional Health Office of National Healthcare Group
Singapore faces a rapidly ageing population, rising prevalence of chronic disease and more years lived in disability and dependence. Seniors and vulnerable population segments face increasing isolation and poor mental health. Social determinants and lifestyle interventions involving sustainable behavioural change, crucial to health and wellbeing, are often inadequately addressed. In 2016, the Wellness Kampung (WK) network was built in the town of Yishun to serve as meeting places for residents to bond and support each other throughout their life, and for healthcare professionals to be visible and accessible resources to the community.
Three underutilised spaces within public housing estates were converted into “community living rooms”. A participatory design approach in the built environment, programming and daily operations of the WK encouraged inclusivity, engagement and community ownership. Through an iterative 3-year journey of co-designing and co-operating, these design philosophies endured: attention to what is available locally rather than what we think should be there, belief in everyone as an agent of change with the ability to give and receive, and recognition that the associational whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. WK has become a sustainable stage for healthy, connected and satisfying community life.
Since its opening, WK has engaged 2,525 local residents. Typically, residents like Madam Sim, 69, who experienced multiple hospitalisations and progressive isolation, would be introduced to WK. She made friends with other seniors in the neighbourhood. They check in on each other, join interest groups and help each other manage their long-term conditions daily. With the enhanced social support, they regain confidence and reduce healthcare utilization, by as much as 74% as in the case of Madam Sim. WK is scalable with 84% of WK activities led and organised by residents themselves. Beyond impact at the individual level, local community stakeholders like merchants, schools and arts groups support WK. Three new sites beyond Yishun have been formed since 2018.
This project addresses one of our biggest challenges: ageing populations. Its innovative character is how it connects daily problems with a community building process and the creation of support networks and meeting places.