18 Feb 2021 Guest Blog: The Importance of Local System Leaders in Enabling Positive Change for Health
Influencing health and wellbeing at a community level is a crucial factor in transforming food environments. Read the latest guest blog post from Beth Wolfenden. Beth is the Public Health Specialist and Healthier Place Healthier Future Programme Lead for Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. Beth leads on the food, physical activity and healthy weight agenda as part of her role.
This piece is a reflection and summary of the Local Government Association (LGA) Webinar “Pennine Lancashire Consortium of Local Authorities: Engaging and empowering system leaders to influence health and wellbeing in their communities”. The webinar was hosted on Tuesday 8th February and covered the role of system leaders in enabling policy change which impacts communities at a local level.
Elected members are often considered the ‘eyes and ears’ of their residents, translating and resolving issues practically. The Healthier Place, Healthier Future (HPHF) project is working with system leaders to put health and wellbeing into the heart of political and community engagement. HPHF is working to inspire and empower members to advocate for health and wellbeing as part of their role, developing a ‘volunteer’ workforce to support change. This feeds into our four key levers to transform obesogenic environments – harnessing the power of system leaders, planners, businesses and communities.
The Health Picture in Pennine Lancashire
20% of wards in Pennine Lancashire have over 40% of children living in poverty. This is a sobering figure when you look at the surrounding food environment. The area has 50% of its districts in the top 15 in England for ‘hot food takeaway prevalence’ which no doubt contributes towards the fact that childhood obesity more than doubles between Reception and Year Six in 66% of wards.
“Childhood obesity more than doubles between reception and year six in 66% of wards in Pennine Lancashire.”
The Power of System Leaders in Promoting Healthy Weight
There are 254 Elected Members in Pennine Lancashire. This can be seen as an ‘untapped power’ towards promoting healthy weight. We have an opportunity to transform environments through connecting Elected Members and Primary Care Networks (PCNs) to become drivers of place-based obesity prevention strategies, ensuring children and young people are at the heart of the change. PCNs build on existing primary care services and enable the greater provision of proactive, personalised, coordinated and more integrated health and social care for people close to home (NHS.uk). Elected Members are in a unique position to influence PCNs and address childhood obesity at a locality level and offer the opportunity to connect local Councils to the communities they represent.
Effective Engagement Leads to Change
The HPHF project is working with system leaders to develop a robust way of embedding health and wellbeing into Elected Members learning. This is an opportunity to develop a universal approach to a healthy weight, in which political allegiance is overlooked with the moral obligation to mutually work together to create environments that support a healthier place. So far, the HPHF project engages regularly with around 30 Elected Members from across the Pennine Lancashire wards, around 8% of the total elected members – we still have a way to go to onboard more members to the project.
Creating a Learning Environment for Elected Members
In our initial conversations with Elected Members, we realised many are often time-short, with many projects, meetings and general life to juggle. We have therefore looked to develop an accessible learning environment which signposts system leaders to access a rich variety of resources about health and wellbeing, in different learning formats: from online modules, infographics and webinars. We are working to develop:
Peer to peer support
Peer to peer support will help to onboard new Elected Members, matching up members from wards with similar demographics across districts to support each other and share learnings.
Learning environments that support health and wellbeing
Through the different learning methodologies, we have the opportunity to develop a robust way of embedding healthy weight into all elected member learning and raise the profile of the wellbeing agenda.
Relationships with Council leads
Council leads understand how to make things happen’, so to say. Our work with councillors will lead to change, but we need Council leads with a health and wellbeing agenda too. We have therefore been working with named leads from each council to support the onboarding of new Elected Members, deployment of training and resources.
Eyes and ears of the community
Elected Members can be seen as the eyes and ears of the community’ – councillors care. Often a local councillor’s workload may consist of the challenges of bins, noise complaints, or waste removal. Yet, Elected Members also speak for the wider community, providing the opportunity to build a positive connection between residents and councils. Local councillors can signpost to resources, community facilities and other schemes to ensure their residents can take advantage of what is available.
It requires legwork to develop relationships with Elected Members – as it does your neighbours or your work colleagues. With the right key information and learning environments, Elected Members can turn tasks into community action that support the development of a healthier place.
Listen to some of our conversations with councillors 👇
🎙Listen to the HPHF Podcast with Councillor Jackie Floyd – ‘What it Means to be a Councillor and How to Start a Conversation Over Bins‘
🎙Listen to the HPHF Podcast with Councillor Shaun Turner – ‘Introducing Healthier Environments‘