This paper explores the use of rapid appraisal in defining the health and social needs of a community. The aim is to formulate joint action plans between residents and service providers. Data was collected by an extended primary care team from three sources to build a profile of the community: existing documents about the neighbourhood, interviews with a range of informants, and direct observations. Perceived problems of the community and suggestions for change were used as the main outcome measures of the study. Interviews and focus groups identified six priorities for change, many of which were not health related. These changes have been or are being implemented. The paper concludes that an expanded primary care team can use rapid appraisal as a first step in identifying and meeting local health needs. It facilitates a multi-disciplinary approach and complements quantitative methods of assessing need.