Following on from our focus on poverty work, and previous series of poverty blogs we continue our series on practical approaches to tackling poverty with John Hume, CEO of the People’s Health Trust. John’s blog explores how the trust works to empower local people to make meaningful change to their socio- economic environment.
Supporting local residents to genuinely feel empowered enough to determine what they think are the causes of the socio-economic disadvantages they face and the action they wish to take, is critical, not just because of a more traditional notion of ‘outputs’ – they are many and varied – but more because of the important and transformative nature of being in a process. The process of residents listening to each other, gathering data from each other, finding purpose with each other, feeling heard and feeling able to take action together is a crucial pathway which can lead to a sense of collective control – control which goes on to be actualised in things which affect their well-being. That is the basis of People’s Health Trust’s theory of change: a process of releasing collective control locally leads to increased knowledge, social connections, confidence, aspiration, money and resources and influence. And it’s starting to bear fruit in Penparcau in Aberystwyth.
People’s Health Trust leads and invests in the Local Conversations programme in 24 areas across Wales, Scotland and England. At the core of the programme is the need to address the many socio-economic factors which cluster together in neighbourhoods which experience the sharp-end of disadvantage and which seriously undermine health and well-being and which create a health chasm between people living in richer and people living in poorer areas. In short, your health and your life expectancy can be determined by these powerful socio-economic factors
Through developing local conversations many local priorities have started to emerge and local actions taken which would not have seen the light of day through traditional methods of ‘consultation’. At its heart this is because there was no agenda set from ‘on-high’ – the agenda was set locally. Within the Penparau Community Forum, local people used a deep and enduring engagement process involving residents listening to residents, developing ideas for action, testing priorities back with other residents before arriving at critical actions which they felt were undermining their socio-economic well-being locally. They were addressing some of the structural reasons which affected negatively affected them. They were also practical and common sense.
They identified these as being a lack of community space (physical and online); uncared for/underused green spaces and a lack of public transport. Penparcau Community Forum had an income of only £10k per annum at the start of the process with us, so they were not large financially, but they had local knowledge, skill and interest and it’s this combination which is proving to be the gold-dust.
The deep engagement over many months meant there was a quality and authenticity to their locally identified priorities which could never have been discovered through more traditional types of consultation. Their approach attracted attention: they were able to demonstrate the critical nature of their community space, the passion and plans they had for it and just exactly what this could unlock locally. Incredibly (and deservedly), in the last year they won over £400,000 from the Welsh Government for the development of the community building in Penparcau (not bad for an organisation with a turnover of £10k two years ago!).
But this is about more than a building – it’s about local people being in control; it’s about having a space through which they can support further activities and each other. It’s about local pride. It’s about aspiration. It’s about knowing you can influence and that the influence can have very real and tangible difference. They are now working on community transport and seeking a local solution to a complex problem. Judging by the outstanding result with the community space, I’ve no doubt they will resolve it. So, was this all about serendipity? Right place, right time? Knowing the ‘right’ people? No, I really don’t think so. This was about a good process of engagement and some incredibly hard work combined with the wisdom of local people prevailing over entrenched and debilitating socio-economic factors.
About the author: John Hume is the Chief Executive of People’s Health Trust and a member of the Advisory Board for NIHR’s School for Public Health Research. John was previously the Deputy Head of Programmes for Big Lottery Fund’s £500m health programme, ran his own business for several years and headed up V’s £100m corporate match fund programmes. As well as leading operations planning at both Big Lottery Fund and the Healthcare Commission, John also worked in learning disability/mental health services, where he set up and ran a community resource centre.