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Guest Blog: Connections and conversations, not assessments and referrals

in News

Rebecca Smith, Community Involvement Officer, Aneurin Bevan Gwent Public Health Team, highlights how a different approach to community engagement is helping to deliver better services and support people to age well in Torfaen.

Integrated Wellbeing Networks work collaboratively to sustain and improve wellbeing in our communities. The project connects our people, our places and our provisions enabling everyone to live the healthiest, happiest life they can. Community involvement is at the heart of all the work we do. 

The work is place based and bespoke to each area we work in. In Torfaen, our priority areas have been identified as Blaenavon, Croesyceiliog and Llanyrafon, Trevethin and Thornhill

Healthy Blaenavon has been our focus for the last three years with movement now towards Connecting Croesyceiliog and Llanyrafon.

It is important to us that the community have the opportunity to contribute to conversations and decisions in the community about the things that affect them. The way we “engage” is with connections and conversations not assessments and referrals. It is a socially developed movement shaped by the people that live and work in these areas.

What do we do that is so different?

As I mentioned above it’s all about conversations, the majority of our work is done informally. For example, we attend sessions like over 60s exercise or youth club and simply get to know the participants. We build strong relationships by spending time with people. The more time you spend with them chatting, the more you learn. You are then able to suggest activities or signpost to agencies that may be able to support with certain problems. Once these relationships are established, it is easier to support more formal surveys like those from County Councils that need to feedback to Welsh Government. The community already trusts the officer who has spent time with them building these relationships. In Llanyrafon we have worked with the Primary school, who are our Community Connectors, they have produced a survey around health and wellbeing in their area and will report back to IWN with the results. People are much more likely to answer questions from children, than officers waving clipboards.

We work collaboratively with other agencies, both public and third sector, empowering people to age well and live healthy lives. In Blaenavon we have removed some of the barriers to healthy living by supporting partners to apply for funding and deliver free or low- cost activities in the community

The community should never feel that a project be done to them but always with them. For example, with our family exercise club in Blaenavon we believed that during the 2-hour slot, parents would like an hour to themselves to exercise, whilst the kids were kept busy by the play service. In our first session we sat and chatted asking them what they wanted and in fact they asked for the full session, exercising and playing with their children.

Another example of this is working alongside Torfaen Sports Development, we asked the over 60s community what type of exercise they would like. In other places they had asked for gentle, chair exercises. However, in Blaenavon our community wanted circuits and weights. We should never assume what our community wants or needs!

Our community involvement is intergenerational. In some of our previous community conversations we brought together some of our older generation and our youth provision cooked for them, they sat down to make crafts and eat together. There have been many trips out of town to places like London, Swansea and Cardiff, helping those older people who feel isolated whilst also broadening the horizons of our younger generations. This helps build relationships between the generations and helps to break down the barriers between them.

We have a movement across Gwent called Wellbeing friends and this encourages people to share information of health and wellbeing activities via social media by sharing posts or telling friends and family.  This helps disseminate the information to those not on line. In Blaenavon, we are working with our World Heritage Youth Ambassadors (YAMS) who will support us through their volunteering programme, to write our newsletters and share the information with community. In Llanyrafon, we are working with the Primary school and their community connectors on a similar project.

In conclusion, community involvement should be place based, community led and innovative. It’s not about assessments and referrals, it’s simply about conversations and connections. Try thinking outside the box, it’s much more fun out here!

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