A guest post from Mark Higton
On Thursday I was privileged to attend the 4th Annual Community Champions Tri-Borough Conference, which celebrated the work of the Community Champions programme – the purpose of which is to connect communities and residents with local services by utilising the passion and experience of local volunteers to improve health and wellbeing, and to reduce inequalities. It was a significant event, celebrating the achievements of our volunteers, with over 320 delegates in attendance from across Hammersmith, Kensington & Chelsea, and Westminster.
I was moved by the public and private testimonies of our volunteers, of George Shaw (Notting Dale), who spoke of his happiness at being able to listen and engage with people, solving problems and improving his skills and knowledge in the process; Heba Al-Rifaee (Old Oak), whose involvement as a Maternity Champion has allowed her to help neighbours, make friends, and to give something back to Britain; David Rice (World’s End), who compared the event to ‘the Brit Awards’, and marvelled at how the isolated and vulnerable have been reached as community barriers were broken down; and Julie Isaac (Queens Park), who read a beautiful poem dedicated to her fellow Community Champions.
The programme was launched in White City, in 2008, as part of the Dept. of Communities and Local Government’s “London-wide Well-London Programme”. As such it was a direct response to David Cameron’s call for Big Society solutions. It was supported by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, led ably by Stephen Greenhalgh, who had also anticipated the need to devolve the commissioning of services to the local community. The levels of engagement exceeded all expectations, and by late 2012 the programme was expanded. Its objectives being to:
- Implement effective and sustainable community-led approaches, particularly in areas of greatest need
- Engage and invest in people to build and strengthen good health and wellbeing for their communities
- Building confidence, knowledge, skills and capacity of local people
- To work in partnerships with local organisations and agencies to provide volunteering and employment opportunities
It was at this juncture, with the support of Councillor Joe Carlebach, that the initiative was launched in Old Oak, and I became involved as a local authority representative. I reflected with some bemusement therefore, when a Hammersmith and Fulham Labour Councillor spoke of their pride on Thursday, ‘in leading the way’, as Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster announced that they intend to adopt Hammersmith’s devolved commissioning and delivery model.
Could this be the same devolved delivery structure that was devised by Stephen Greenhalgh, providing greater funding for areas with long-term social issues than ever before? The one which the Labour group were bitterly opposed to, campaigned against, and pledged to revoke, in stark contrast to their enthusiasm for (Cameron’s) Community Champions? A week, never mind three years, is a long time in politics, but thank you Stephen Greenhalgh!
There have been many accomplishments this past year, but I would like to specifically mention the Maternity Champions programme that was trialled at Old Oak. It was a national first, and a fantastic success. It enables volunteers at Community Centres and Queen Charlotte’s Hospital to sign post services required by mothers and new families, and to provide help and support regarding breast feeding. One of our Champions has commenced a foundation course in Midwifery, and with the Borough-wide (and National) extension of the programme it is hoped that she will be the first of many. We also have high hopes for other programmes that are in development.
As we approach the fifth year of the Tri-borough programme, it is no mean thing to reflect that Hammersmith’s share of volunteer Awards on Thursday accounted for 50%, with 33% in total going to Old Oak. I cannot underline enough what an incredible achievement and success story the programme is, with many volunteers gaining formal qualifications in ‘understanding health and wellbeing’, ‘mental health’, and ‘child birth and beyond’ whilst helping to identify and commission new services that meet local health and social care needs, and resolve long term structural problems.
I would like to thank all our Community Champions for all their wonderful hard work, as well as H&F’s Community Champion’s group: Helen Rowe and the Urban Partnership (Edward Woods), Ewa Kasjanowicz and Kim Barclay (Parkview), Carla Martin, Caroline Lister and Carmella Obinyan (Old Oak), and Mary Hennessy of the original White City pilot scheme. It is interesting to reflect that the facility funding for some of the Centres are now uncertain (having been extended for just 12 months), as the Labour Group look to potentially reduce the number of Hubs from 5 to 3 across the borough.
I would also like to extend my best wishes and hopes to Hammersmith’s new Community Champions, and as the programme is expanded further, to the new teams joining the group: Barbara Shelton (Addison), Sarah Benjamin (West Kensington & Gibbs Green) and the Field Road team (Bayonne and Field Road).
If you know of anyone that would like to get involved, please get in touch via this link.