Sharing Sheffield: Bridge Building

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‘The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any’   Alice Walker

I wrote a blog at the turn of the year called Sharing Sheffield motivated by a sense that we are at a sliding doors moment in setting the future direction of the world, our country and the city where I live.

There is no doubt that we are living in a time of great change, and that for better or worse, old systems are breaking down and new patterns are emerging. On the one hand environmental, social, political and economic issues at all levels are looking pretty bleak but on the other hand humanity is offering up hope and new possibilities.

The immediate response, kindness, resourcefulness and courage of local communities and public services in the face of the recent terror attacks in the UK and the Glenfell Tower tragedy, was simply incredible.

What emerged for me was the power of everyday people to come together and make a positive difference, and the value of public services which are able to respond to a crisis and work in partnership with communities for the common good. These horrible events highlighted more than any randomised control trial or formal research project the importance of building communities which are compassionate and connected where people feel empowered to come together and take action for the benefit of others, both people they may already know and complete strangers.

The idea around Sharing Sheffield was that the formal health and care system is really important and necessary and should be cherished, valued and properly resourced, but also that much of what affects our health and wellbeing happens in our communities. The Health Foundation have recently released a report which states ‘as little as 10% of a populations health and wellbeing is linked to access to health care’, the rest includes social networks, money and resources, food, education, housing, environment and transport.

The Sharing Sheffield blog post was about valuing what happens in communities and finding ways for the formal system to help create the conditions where more power and potential can be unleashed.

In response to my blog and challenge, I was approached by Sheffield CCG (local NHS commissioners) to help design and facilitate the next ‘Shaping Sheffield’ event. Together with Janet Harris from the University of Sheffield we set about using some of the principles and practices around community development to create the idea of ‘Sharing Spaces’. We invited people with a specific interest to host a Sharing Space. Each Sharing Space also included a community activist who acted as a facilitator and a senior public service leader. Around 200 people from many different walks of life came together and we ended up with 7 Sharing Spaces focusing on; Older people, Transition, Food Revolution, Skills Sharing, Crowdfunding, Move More and Children and Young People.

We started with everyone together exploring our hopes for the day and our ground rules/shared values. An emphasis on respect, inclusivity and collaboration emerged. One great activism ground rule I really liked came from Richard Fletcher  ‘If you are going to oppose, propose’!

In the context of the specific focus each group explored their shared goals, what resources they had in the group, what outside help was needed and small next steps.

Bringing people together

At the end of the day we came back together and shared our reflections. One of my favourite moments of the day was listening to the CCG Chair, Dr Tim Moorhead sharing what he had learnt about crowdsourcing from Sheffield Soup founder Pennie Raven. He promised to meet up with her in the future to explore how he and the system could help but he also recognised the importance of ensuring the system did not negatively affect the essence of what makes Sheffield Soup so fantastic.

Finally, at the end of the day we stole an idea (with permission) from Victoria Betton of Mhabitat and hung out our reflections, views and ideas for all to see on a washing line!

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We asked each of the groups to record their discussions and I have put this together in a digital report which has been published on the CCG website.

For me, what came out of the event was that we were just scratching the surface of the power and potential of what is happening in our communities. There is a need to build a bridge between the formal health and care system and communities and re-negotiate the relationship between the two.

Perhaps it is time to turn the whole thing on its head and understand that people and groups in communities are the frontline for our health and wellbeing. Collective community leadership needs to be valued and encouraged and the formal health and care system should be seen as an asset to communities not the other way around!

To make this happen bridge builders from within services and communities will need to create safe Sharing Spaces for open and honest dialogue and explore and transform the current power dynamic so we all become more powerful together and make the most of the amazing resources we have in our people, communities, public services and our place.


Yes, we are experiencing uncertain and very difficult times, but Alice Walker recognised that we each have the power to affect the future in our gift. Another female activist Helen Keller recognised the importance of bridge building and sharing that power for the collective good…..

‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much’  Helen Keller


British Red Cross UK Solidarity Fund