Allowing ‘Reaching Out’ to adapt and develop is about letting communities own the direction of the project.

Author: Megan Barlow-Pay

One of the ongoing challenges we have faced delivering this programme of work is that, ironically, the project was designed and developed without much input from communities. I know, I know. We are supposed to be all about Public Involvement and promoting the community voice. Sadly on this occasion the realities of funding timelines meant this was challenging at best.

Our original bid was for a 3 phased project:

  1. The Storytelling workshopbringing a wide representation of communities and groups together for a one-off celebration of Southampton’s diversity
  2. The Community Champions Advisory Group (CCAG)made up of attendees from the story telling event, this group would work alongside us to shape, guide, and co-develop phase 3
  3. ‘Spaces for Engagement and Involvement‘ – Working with the CCAG, and taking a ‘needs based, place based’ approach, we would take public involvement activities out of a clinical or academic setting, and hold a series of fun, engaging and informal events in the community.

The reality though, was this project was dreamed up without real input from the very communities the we were hoping would be at the heart of it. Whilst we had some inspiring conversations at last year’s Mela festival and worked collaboratively with our fabulous existing PPI members, we didn’t integrate the thoughts, opinions and needs of the communities we were hoping to reach out to. (And at this point, had not real links or relationships with anyone from them).

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to us then (after all, we are constantly warning others of the pitfalls of doing ‘for’ rather than ‘with’), our plans began to unravel at phase 2. Despite the success of the workshop, just 1 attendee felt they could commit to the CCAG.

The reasons behind this?
People didn’t feel they could commit to regular meetings.
The concept of the group was to vague. (We had left it deliberately ‘open’, with the intention that the members would define and have ownership).
They couldn’t see the direct benefit to the individual or their community.

Again, we needed to allow ourselves to relinquish control, admit we were wrong, and be flexible for the project to work. We worked individually with various community members who had been at the storytelling workshop, and asked them to take over re-shape and redefine the 2nd and 3rd stage of the project around their needs. (Thank you to INVOLVE who are in part funding and monitoring the project, and are happy for us to adapt as we go along!).

The new plan:

2. Individual community collaboration. We will continue to collaborate with representatives from different communities in Southampton on a 1:1 basis (rather than in a wider advisory group) in order to co-design future ‘spaces for involvement’ events. This will allow us to be flexible to their other commitments, needs and time restraints, and not place too much expectation on people to join a formal group.
3. ‘Spaces for Engagement and Involvement’. We will ‘piggy back’ onto existing community events, providing spaces where we will host conversations about research and health.

We are looking forward to running a series of ‘Spaces for Engagement and Involvement’ alongside different community events, including The Holyrood Estate’s summer garden party, West Itchen Community Trust’s summer event, and a Friday prayers at a local Mosque.

This is with great thanks to the community members who have pushed us in a different (and better) direction!


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