Communities and volunteering making a difference

The Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) play a huge role in health and care services. They can make a great contribution to helping the public sector use money well and deliver better services. Small, locally based charities and social enterprises often deliver the important preventative services that keep people away from expensive hospital stays or frequent GP visits, for example social groups, community exercise groups, befriending, counselling and debt advice.

We heard that the VCSE sector wasn’t feeling sufficiently plugged into the work of our health and care partnership in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes. So we successfully bid to join the second group of areas on the Building Health Partnerships programme. This initiative, run by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research and Social Enterprise UK, explores how the VCSE can play a greater role.

So far we have held workshops in four communities – Leighton Buzzard in Central Bedfordshire, Queen’s Park in Bedford Borough, Woughton in Milton Keynes and Luton where we have identified Farley ward as the area of focus. These workshops were attended by local residents and their elected representatives as well as people from VCSE and statutory health and care providers. They have helped to identify some practical improvements that local groups could make to improve wellbeing and health in their area such as making the best use of green spaces.

Detail on the outputs of the workshops, including next steps, can be found in these four write-ups:

We are linking this with work on volunteering, with Community Action: Bedfordshire (with volunteer centres in Luton and Leighton Buzzard), Community Action: Milton Keynes and Community Voluntary Service Bedfordshire assessing the role volunteering is playing in health and care and how it could be increased.

We have also been successful in an expression of interest to join the NHS England and Improvement VCSE Leadership programme. This will help us to look at how the VCSE are involved in our partnership. This will include developing a VCSE steering group overseeing the work with VCSE partners (including Healthwatch) full and equal members.

As this work develops we will publish case studies of the difference it is making.