Empowerment of people in communities is the only way to shift inequalities

Last month, our CEO Clare Wightman joined a roundtable of national speakers to consider how the NHS and communities can join forces and to also discuss how NHS England’s new statutory guidance on partnership working with people and communities will seek to improve services.

For us, the discussion cuts across many of our projects but none more so than Healthy Communities Together (HCT) in Willenhall, Coventry.

A group of people and professional gather to chat around a table in Willenhall
Previous group we’ve undertaken in Willenhall as people and professionals gather to talk at Hagard Community Centre

Here is an extract from conveners A Better Way’s notes from the event about the HCT programme, presented at the roundtable by Clare and Coventry GP, Sarah Raistrick. Sarah has previously been the Chair of Coventry and Warwickshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and is currently a non-Executive Director with Herefordshire and Worcestershire Integrated Care Board (ICB).

A Better Way is a network of people working together to improve services, build strong communities and bring about a fairer society.

The roundtable took place on 31 October 2022. Read more about the aims of A Better Way by clicking this link and follow the Healthy Communities Together journey so far through our collection of blogs here.

Extract, by A Better Way

“Clare Wightman and Sarah Raistrick, talked about the Healthy Communities Together initiative in Coventry, where public and voluntary sector partners are working with people in communities to shift inequalities and redesign services. 

“Clare said she wouldn’t normally start by talking about resources but it was important to realise that this partnership was made possible because of resources from the Kings Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund, which were specifically aiming to shift inequalities by building public and voluntary sector partnerships. Grapevine’s lens in approaching this work is about shifting power and ‘diving right back down to reality’, being strengths based and working with people to identify their ambitions, she explained.

“Healthy Communities Together first spent time building relationships within the partnership itself – Grapevine, Coventry City Council Public Health Department and Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Partnership Trust. Then they brought professsionals, the Head of Acute Services, the local GP, the vicar and other players in the community into one room to listen deeply to a person with experience of mental health issues. After further intensive engagement with the community, this led to a wider plan to improve the support available to him and others. Clare explained that over time it had not proved possible to keep the same team together in the same room. So they had responded by setting up core teams, with a changing membership, to regroup and flex around issues. They also shared learning continuously – ‘working out loud’.

A woman with brown hair and wearing a yellow jumper talks to a man in glasses indoors in Willenhall, Coventry

“Sarah told us that a lot of what they’d learnt they had already known intuitively, including the link between mental health and social circumstances, but the act of a person telling their own story proved very important, not just for them but especially for those hearing it. They asked, ‘What keeps you well?’ and heard that it was often family, friends, a job, their house and their pets; and they learnt a lot about what people need, how frustrated they are by the way we set up structures and how they could work better together. As a result, for example, men’s groups had been set up that were transformative for those involved.

“Both Sarah and Clare talked about the challenges as well as the achievements. It was hard to achieve change at scale, turning round the oil tanker was difficult, and they’d found a gulf between board level and community commitment to this approach and the buy-in of middle levels. Keeping partnerships going was also challenging – keeping commitment live, staying human and being human with each other and moving forward as a team.

“Creating new sources of power in the community is critical, Clare concluded: empowerment of people is the only way to change things. To do that, you need to get to know your patch, and get into every street, and bring local people into services, as volunteers and in advisory groups. And she emphasised the power of shared stories – with people and professionals listening and talking to each other.”

Click here to read the full article.