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Health and wellbeing

Partnerships in health

Big Local working with health agencies.

By Katie Turner, Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR)

‘We’re here, we are passionate and have time and energy’, is the message from Big Local partnerships contributing to health and wellbeing in their local area.

From commissioning services to piloting new initiatives, improving residents’ access to services, and strengthening resident engagement in existing services, Big Local partnerships have been working with local health agencies to design and deliver health services that respond to the needs and experiences of residents.

Finding allies within health structures, building the right relationships and establishing how residents and health agencies can work together takes time and is rarely a straight forward process. However, at the same time as Big Local partnerships are trying to identify which health structures to engage with and how, health agencies – such as the local GP surgery, Public Health Teams and Clinical Commissioning Groups – are also wanting to reach out to residents beyond existing formal mechanisms and are looking for ways to do this.

Creating opportunities

These are some of the ways that Big Local partnerships we talked to had opened doors to working with health agencies:

Getting across the Big Local offer and ask – For both parties to be able to see the bigger picture they need to understand one another. Health agencies and Big Local areas should be clear and transparent about why they want to collaborate with each other, what their own interests are, what they can offer (e.g. time and resources) and then work together on a joint plan of action.

Making the most of local knowledge and experiences – Think about the information, data, and experience that you have access to that complements the health agency data and makes it real. Some partnerships found it useful to get help – for example, from their rep, Local Trust, or a local university – to build skills and knowledge about data and how to present it.

Finding people who want to be part of the bigger Big Local picture – Identify allies who see health as part of a wider picture and are prepared to look at tackling it holistically – and looking at what assets they and Big Local can bring to the party. Be open to chance meetings and find individuals that get what you offer and how you work.

Stepping outside geographical boundaries – Look at the most appropriate boundaries for you on a case-by-case basis and be prepared to go beyond them where that is necessary for you to address local issues. Don’t let them be a straitjacket, given that most health agencies will have a remit to work across a wider geographical area.

Time and timing – it takes time to build relationships and gain trust, and the ‘right time’ to pick up on health as an issue will be different in different areas. Tackling health and wellbeing is intensive work so consider buying in extra help in the form of a worker or recruiting volunteers who can concentrate on health. You can also begin by doing your preparatory work, such as having your research on health issues in the local area done and ready for when you decide to take action.

Starting a journey

Our study has shown that health and wellbeing issues are important to Big Local partnerships, and that much has already been learned about what opens doors to health agencies but that this is a process that may take time to get started. Progress can be slow and frustrating but can be boosted by chance as well as design. Even small gains are important because these will help to build a relationship with health agencies and pave the way to bigger changes.

To find out more, view the full research report: ‘People, places and health: Lessons from Big Local’

Practical resources to download

Some of the areas we studied had developed really useful tools through their health work, which we’re pleased to have developed into resources to share. In the resource pack you will find:

  1. A template to present health inequality data in a striking, easy to understand format — builds on work by Beechwood, Ballantyne and Bidston Big Local.
  2. A template for collecting and presenting residents’ stories about health and wellbeing — builds on work by PEACH Big Local.
  3. A visual resource to describe and explain the role your Big Local partnership can play — builds on work by Ewanrigg Big Local.

To use these resources in your Big Local area, download the resource pack here.