Involving local residents is a feature of the New Deal for Communities approach. Discuss the advantages and the challenges of involving local people in the running of community health projects. Under the New Deal for Communities initiative Thornhill plus you secured funding for renewal of the Thornhill area. The aims are to reduce social exclusion and improve people’s quality of life. I will discuss some of the advantages and challenges of involving local people in the running of community health projects.
Dave Kellet is a Thornhill plus you director who believes that if you have local involvement in Thornhill plus you then it is going to work better. Dave Kellet explained that the government set out five target areas to regenerate communities as follows; Improve people’s health, increase educational achievement and skills, improve housing and the physical environment, increase the number of people in work and reduce crime. Thornhill is an area where there are people who are at risk of social isolation and it also has twenty-five percent workless rate.
The environment itself was unpopular, as there were burnt out cars and no safe areas for children to play. Asides from the involvement of local residents being a government requirement, there are other good reasons, which bring benefit to the community projects and the people. There are a majority of local residents on the Thornhill plus you board this means that a sense of ownership, community spirit and pride in the community can be adopted. If local residents believe the project was going to bring benefits to their community and to them, then the people are more likely to try to make it work.
The residents have identified health and well being needs in their own community, which include improving physical and mental health, improving access to services, reducing teenage pregnancy, encouraging healthy eating and smoking cessation support. The Thornhill Health and Wellbeing Project THAWP have two local residents Gwyneth Baker and Lynda Barnes employed to develop activities. They joined up with Thornhill family support project and together they target health issues and provide services to families who require extra support.
Parents can go to a drop in service, where they can let their children play while they can get advice from health professionals. Local resident Gwyneth Baker has previous experience of volunteering and is now employed as a community health worker with THAWP. She believes that THAWP couldn’t achieve what it does without the volunteers. Gwyneth has worked as a volunteer in the Thornhill area for over sixteen years and has a large network of contacts in Thornhill already, so people know her and may have previously approached her for advice.
Having Gwneth on board is a great benefit to attract local involvement. Dave Kellet originally tried to get the THAWP project run by voluntary agencies, however by employing locals who have knowledge of health and social care issues on the estate has helped in the success of the projects. Other residents may feel that those employed from the estate are more approachable. An advantage for the new deal for community initiative itself is that having people volunteer to run these projects is probably a lot more cost effective than employing a professional, who may not have inside knowledge of the area.
This may also help towards government targets of increasing the number of people in work. There are also benefits to those who volunteer as they can gain new skills, knowledge and experience, which could possibly help them gain paid employment in the future. Some volunteers can also achieve a sense of satisfaction that they have a purpose in life in that they are improving the lives of others. Volunteers have said that their self-esteem and confidence has been boosted.
Cooking Pots is one example of a community group that encourages healthy eating and can also counter the effects of poverty. Young mums can go along and by paying a small amount of ?1 for ingredients bought locally they can get guidance on how to cook a nutritionally balanced meal while their children play, supervised by family support workers. Everyone involved can enjoy the meal that the young mums cooked. This also gives the young mums an opportunity to socialise with other young mums, which minimises social exclusion.
Motiv8 is an example of another community leisure development group aimed at people of all ages and abilities. It has a variety of programmes including Tea dances, Basketball coaching, Football, graffiti art, singing lessons and many more. All of these activities give people the opportunity for social contact. People can be creative and develop new skills as well as connect with others and feel supported by others. This fits in with Labonte’s definition of well being; Physical well-being: vitality and energy. Social well being: a sense of connectedness nd community spirit. Mental well being: a sense of meaning and purpose in life. A recent survey showed that significant improvements in more people eating healthily, fewer people smoking, more people taking part in physical exercise, more people with better health than last year and better access to health services (Adapted from Thornhill Plus you, 2006). Thornhill’s health targets were being met. More people from the estate feel less stigmatised by where they live, as one resident Pauline says she loves living in Thornhill.
There are various benefits for local residents being involved in the running of community health projects, however some challenges can occur. Pat Taylor described some barriers within partnerships where locals and professionals can have conflicting agendas. For example some professionals may want to address the targets or objectives, whereas locals may want to address obvious problems from the ground level i. e. litter, as these are the things that locals may have to deal with on a daily basis.
Exploitation of lay members has been discussed by one resident June, who said that volunteers are expected to attend meetings given little consideration for the volunteer’s commitments. Sometimes local lay members may assume that professionals are involving locals to keep them quiet and not actually take their views seriously. However this has not been the case in the Thornhill plus you group. Dave Shields Strategic Services Manager at Southampton City Council also pointed out that some statutory agencies don’t trust Thornhill health and well being project to run its own affairs.
This places extra pressure on resident members of the board. Not all local residents have as much experience as for example Gwneth Baker who has worked in health and well being organisations before in Thornhill. This could be a problem when local residents running community health projects do not have adequate experience. There have been conflicts arising previously between health professionals and local residents when addressing methods in improving people’s health. It was felt that a changes of direction was needed from professionals telling people what to do i. e. ‘Give up smoking’.
This issue was resolved by the idea of developing a smoking cessation group. Another challenge facing the Thornhill plus you project members is the future funding of the organisation as they had been given 10 years to regenerate the area after this there will be no more funding for the projects. It would be a shame to let all the hard work that went into setting up these projects go to waste and also detrimental to the people who benefited from the projects. Dave Shields expects Southampton City Council or the Primary Care Trust to employ or pay volunteers as sessional workers.
Both Dave Kellet and Dave shields said that Thornhill Health and well being network will be able to establish themselves as a ‘social enterprise’ and will be able to apply for grants to keep the projects running. In general there is often conflict and challenges when new projects are being developed. The advantages of having local people run community health projects can out weigh the challenges. In the Thornhill plus you case success at meeting targets is evidence that local people running projects can work. The main aims of Thornhill health and well being project have certainly been addressed and a variety of improvements have been made.