Recently, I joined my colleagues from IVAR in Swanland Village Hall as part of our Building Health Partnerships: Self Care Programme. The programme is working in 8 geographical areas (STP footprints) to try and help build partnership working across sectors and also move forward the practice of ‘self-care’ or people looking after themselves, to put it in layman’s language. My colleague Nancy Towers has written about the programme as a whole, but suffice to say we are involved because we know that the objectives of these plans can’t be achieved without the involvement of the social sector and individuals in communities…and because that doesn’t happen enough.

Changing that is a big task – top-down approaches tend not to work, the landscape and structures in healthcare change on a seemingly continual basis, and that makes new models, collaborations and ways of doing things difficult to put into practice. Throw huge financial challenges and rising demand into the mix, and stir in a little jaded cynicism from previous attempts to make things happen, and you have an uphill struggle. 

But there is no lack of willing, and one thing that was apparent in Swanland (as in many other places we have worked) is that the individuals involved are committed and passionate about improving things. And part of this programme is about building and strengthening those individual relationships and networks between people across sectors. New models and change involves risk and, sometimes, leaps of faith – and trust doesn’t emerge in a vacuum. It’s built through interaction, shared understanding and working together in action.

What was refreshing about the event as well was the involvement of people who wouldn’t have been there normally: the volunteer-turned-employee-turned-mentor from the furniture recycling charity; the part-Zumba teacher, part-community convener; the woman now using her own personal experience to support others as a volunteer at three organisations. Social prescribing and in-community fitness examples demonstrated the savings to the system, as well as the reach and power of the work of the social sector across the area.

So now we turn to action – how to translate new networks, shared knowledge and good conversations into some change on the ground. Initial thinking from the groups focused on funding and money flows, better information (and access) on existing activities, the barrier of transport (to better health), support for co-ordination (of groups, of transport) in communities, and connecting peers across the STP footprint. Amongst much else.

I don’t know which will take hold, or how quickly, but I remain positively pragmatic. Although we’ve had to reflect on what has gone before the focus must remain on moving forwards – just as it would in our own lives. Being afraid of a massive task can prevent us from biting off the chunks required to make progress. Consider the first bite made.

This programme is supported by NHS England & Big Lottery Fund.

Find out more about the BHP Self Care Programme at –