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


Exploring the ‘We’ in Well-being!


The Kings Fund and National Voices have recently launched an excellent helpful paper ‘People in Control of their own Health’ designed to provide a practical framework to help turn policy rhetoric into a reality.

At the launch event the following question was asked:

What one thing do you think needs to change to support people to take control of their own health?

My simple response to this question is:

To change the lens through which we view and try to improve health from ‘I’ to ‘We’

This response is based on my personal experience of living with type 1 diabetes, supported by experience of working in community development and research around citizenship, peer support and well-being.

A good starting place might be this powerful definition of health I discovered a few months ago through social media in a post written by an Australian GP and writer called Tim Senior

‘Health is not just the physical well-being of an individual but refers to the social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole community in which an individual is able to achieve their full potential as a human being thereby bringing about the total well-being of their community. It is a whole of life view and includes the cyclical concept of life-death-life.’

It is the Aboriginal definition of Health.

This is about having the opportunity to reach our full health potential no matter what health conditions or disease we may live with. It is also about recognising that our health depends not simply on clinical and medical care but on wider social determinants of health in particular our relationships and our community connections.

To bring this to life in our context, I have had a number of conversations with health care professionals in the last few months often in the context of diabetes around supporting self-management.

We have talked about some of the enabling resources from a more clinical perspective including training and support, equipment and digital technology, but we have also shared a belief that our relationships and networks including the very important human interaction between health care professionals and patients and our wider support network, the social capital in our lives are very important factors in our ability to take control of our health.

We know there is evidence of the impact of isolation and loneliness on our health generally. There is evidence to show that loneliness is worse for our health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day and has an impact on our immune system.

There is increasing evidence that support for self-management needs to be set in the context of social networks. A study published in June 2014 ‘Contribution of social networks to the health and self-management of patients with long term conditions’ showed that greater social involvement was significantly related to better self-management ability, better physical health or ability to cope with health conditions and greater emotional well-being.

Professor Martin Knapp and the PSSRU team at the London School of Economics has also produced a useful report and infographic on the economic case for building community capital.

So the idea of building a sense of community into supporting people to control their own health not only makes common sense but also has a growing evidence based behind it.

Important dimensions of ‘We’ not ‘I’ are the relationships between the health care professional and the individual, and the health system and citizens. As we are all aware this is delicate, tricky and complex because we are human beings. The place to start must be with shared purpose and responsibility, not paternalism and a lopsided power base but the co-production of solutions which are meaningful to us all. If we genuinely wish to support people to feel empowered and in control of their health, we must recognise that the person in the room is a whole person not a condition/set of conditions, e.g. ‘a diabetic’.

So here are some descriptions of people:

  1. A person who lives with Diabetes and Asthma and is a Patient Foundation Trust Governor
  2. A person who is a wife and mother of 2 primary school age children and a volunteer reading buddy at school.
  3. A person who has an MBA and is a CE of a social enterprise

This is not three people but one! When this person walks into the consulting room or surgery they bring all these different facets with them. Each patient or person comes with an individual set of circumstances and resources/assets and so does the health care professional, all of which may be useful but it can take time, trust and listening with intent to understand to effectively utilise all that we bring into the room.

The ‘We’ of community and peer support networks and the ‘We’ of the clinical/patient relationship are important factors of helping us to take control of our health.

Here are a few examples of existing and emerging related approaches and activities which help to build the ‘We’ into Wellbeing:

To complete this post a quote which sums it all up in one sentence…..

Ethos of We Love Life


John Walsh recently wrote a very thought provoking post on his excellent ‘yes to life blog’ which articulates the value of each of us taking responsibility for building collaborative and connected communities.