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Developing community development alliances

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recently I received an email with the title ‘Bolster community development, CCGs and wellbeing boards urged’ - as someone who has worked in the Voluntary and Community Sector most of my adult life this was music to my ears. That is until I read the rest of the article, which went on to say….We now have good evidence that working alongside local people to improve health is much more effective than top down prescription, as communities become health sustaining… My response had to be one of “where have you been, what have you been listening to and what have you been doing for the past 60 years?” The evidence of local people working together to improve the quality of life for individuals across the spectrum of health related issues is ever present and has been before the formation of the NHS.

CCGs, health and wellbeing boards and the myriads of the health agencies have, whether by design or default, been established in isolation to the communities they serve. The lack of community engagement in setting up, or present day taking forward the work of these agencies is a missed opportunity of magnitude in embedding health interventions and partnerships into everyday living and improving people’s life experiences. So yes, the article title caught my attention.

Community Development is a professional strand and, for many, a career, and, as such, due courtesy should be shown and given by colleagues from other disciplines, affording equal status on boards. How can we talk about improving health and reducing health inequalities, when we do not exercise equalities in decision making processes? How can we talk about community empowerment when the means by which empowerment is achieved is dis-empowered and disabled by structures and an interpretation of the rule of law over and above the common sense of intent?

Let’s have more haste and less speed in bolstering community development. Take time to consider and implement the newly launched Charter for Community Development in Health, review Local Authority COMPACT arrangements and proactively engage communities, not as tick box exercises, but as a way of transforming and delivering integrated services. It is less about creating community development workers in the health structures and more about creating alliances with existing professionals in the field.