I have worked in the voluntary sector for nearly 15 years, focusing on women’s rights and equality, and particularly on tackling violence against women and girls. I’m still very new to the ICS, and my role is one of the first of its kind in the country, so it feels like a very exciting time.
The main purpose of my role is to bring together the voluntary sector, NHS and local authority partners, and ensure that the voluntary sector is an equitable partner within the ICS.
One of the reasons that this role was created was because we all recognise that to keep people healthy, we have to look at their needs and lives in a more holistic way. We have to consider their unique experiences and look at how these will impact on what type of services they require and how they engage with those services. That should inform how we design services.
Supporting people to be well. Not just ‘not sick.’
The voluntary sector has always had a holistic approach, recognising that health isn’t just about your body, but rather everything around you. We understand that if someone doesn’t have a stable home, doesn’t have a safe place to live in, they’re unlikely to have good health outcomes. They’re unlikely to be able to have a high level of well-being or reach their full potential. My role is to bring the insight, specialism, and innovative way of working from the voluntary sector, and translate this into bigger system strategic thinking.
It is about finding opportunities and pockets of good practice and innovative practice that might be happening on the ground level, on a very small scale, and seeing if and how we can amplify these for the whole of south east London, to enable more accessible services that are right for people and that really address and support people to be well, not just ‘not sick’.
The ICS is trying to develop overarching priorities that will work across all six boroughs, and part of this involves thinking about where the specialism of the voluntary sector would be most impactful.
One key challenge is that the voluntary sector is often poorly funded, and capacity is massively stretched. This is particularly the case for smaller specialist ‘by and for’ organisations. The focus for the voluntary sector is working on the ground delivering life-changing services for all people, especially for marginalised groups and communities. System level engagement can take people away from this day-to-day work, and this kind of work is not yet funded. One of my key objectives is ensuring that adequate and sustainable resources are invested in the voluntary sector to both enhance service capacity, enable more innovation and ensure people are able to access support that is right for them, and to ensure voluntary sector partners have the capacity to collaborate with the system in a way that is more equitable.
Work in communities – for communities
There is definitely a will within the system to get voluntary sector partners to be an equal partner and lead some of the ICS work.
I see opportunities around prevention work, early intervention, and wellbeing work, and in particular specialist work with marginalised communities to address inequalities – work in communities for communities.
Voluntary sector organisations are embedded within the communities they work alongside and therefore have close trusted relationships. People often mistrust the health and care system and that is where voluntary sector organisations play a key role in bridging that gap between people and system, enabling the re-creation of trusted connections between people and communities and the health and care system.
There are lots of great grassroots organisations across all the boroughs, but one particular group I wanted to highlight is the motherhood group. This was started by a young black woman who was a young mother. She found that health professionals were talking over her, no one was listening or understood her unique needs or had insight into the health inequalities faced by young black mums, and it was a challenge to get healthcare professionals to speak to each other about her care.
She decided to start this organisation which supports other young black mothers to be in control of their maternal care. It’s a small organisation but the impact of her work is phenomenal. This is the kind of work that we want to see – work which addresses systemic issues and makes a long, sustainable difference to people’s lives.
Everything that we do should be led by the people we are doing it for
If we want to address health inequalities, we have to look at the systemic discrimination and oppression and racism that are very much alive and kicking within all our big systems. And if we want to offset this, and make sure that people have equitable access to services, the voices of those with lived experience must be at the centre. Everything that we do should be led by the people we are doing it for. Our services should be co-designed and co-delivered by people with lived experiences and the voluntary sector.
My passion has always been social justice – not just looking at health inequalities, but all inequalities that exist. People don’t live one dimensional lives, so we have to take an intersectional approach to looking at oppression. For example, a young, black, trans woman, would experience many different types and level of discrimination and oppression when they engage with different services, communities and social spaces around them.
My passion is offsetting those. I want a world where everyone can live their best life, be well, be happy regardless of the different elements and aspects of their identity. That’s what drives everything I do.