Board in the City, our first community venue: an inclusive social enterprise board game cafe

Board in the City is no ordinary cafe. It is a not-for-profit, community-run café dedicated to playing board games, and is staffed largely by volunteers. This cosy place is in the heart of one of Southampton’s most diverse neighbourhood and hosts a variety of community events – including our upcoming storytelling workshop. Hayley Binstead, cafe owner, has been a valuable partner in the early days of designing the project – bringing her passion, enthusiasm and experience.

Using a ‘needs-based place-based’ approach, it was important to take our project out of the hospitals and universities and into informal, comfortable and approachable environments. This is what makes the café such a valuable partner to us, and the perfect setting for our first event. We also needed a place that is accessible, inclusive and safe. These values are at the heart of café, which prides itself on its all-inclusive atmosphere.

Board in the City do a lot of community work: their first year was dedicated to education, the second to assisted living for elderly people, and their current focus is on mental health and wellbeing. By hosting our event here, we are supporting a company whose ethos fits with our project.

We are proud to be working with Board in the City, and look forward to welcome our community leaders to its doors to share their stories.


Touch Network, our community partner: helping communities share their stories

With the concept of storytelling in mind, we wanted to harness some of the inspiring and creative arts and wellbeing activities in Southampton, and draw on the expertise of those who have the skills and knowledge to help us create a more meaningful event.

Enter Debs Carter at Touch Network…

Touch Network is a not-for-profit charity who run storytelling workshops, with the aim of helping people to confidently talk about their story through celebration events held in coffee shops, bars, restaurants and other interesting and sociable places.

Local people and communities are invited to come and connect with real-life stories in a safe and relaxing environment. Touch Network addresses wellbeing needs in a non-stigmatizing way, enabling people to talk about their lives, connect and have fun in a positive and inspirational way, without it feeling or looking like a ‘wellbeing’ or ‘mental health’ event (which can often act as a barrier for people).

Using this platform to share and hear stories, attendees of Touch Network’s events cheer each other on, learn from each other, and feel more inspired, hopeful and resilient.

We met with Debra Carter, founder of Touch Network in the development of Reaching Out, and she quickly became an invaluable partner, working with us to plan the storytelling activity. Debs has extensive experience of running community outreach events in a dynamic, creative and approachable way, and will facilitate our upcoming storytelling event.

But why storytelling?

Author: Caroline Barker

The perfect timing

When the ‘Reaching Out’ initiative was launched we had just understood how limited some of our work was in terms of diversity. For those unaware, the initiative aims to encourage the development of new relationships with emphasis on those who are not usually, or consistently, involved in research.  
Here was our chance to have some dedicated resource (in the form of a project budget) to start to try and overcome our local diversity issues. I say start, because we are being realistic that our project is just the beginning and there is going to be much more work to be done after this.

Speaking to our local residents

We were lucky to attend the Southampton Mela festival – an international festival. Here we spoke with ‘research naïve’ diverse local residents and learnt that many people lacked the confidence to get involved.

A chance encounter

Earlier in 2018 I came across Debs, and the research project she’d run really stuck with me. A quick google taught us that Debs runs Touch Network, who run storytelling workshops. These workshops help people gain the confidence to stand up and share their story… and the idea to use storytelling was born.


Our storytelling workshop will bring together individuals to celebrate diverse communities. Attendees will be guided through a workshop to write our own story of what community means to us. These stories will be shared with the group.

The workshop will be out in the community, at a relaxed tabletop gaming café (Board in the City) that prides itself on its all-inclusive culture. Being in a relaxed environment was important for us – we know that academic or hospital settings can create barriers for some.

Staff, public contributors and community members alike will all take part in the workshop. We want all relationships with the public in PPI to be as equals, and it is important that we demonstrate this principle throughout our work.

I hope the day will help us to build confidence in the community members. Confidence to speak up, but also the confidence in the project team. The confidence that we are here and are ready and wiling to listen to what they have to say. I am also really excited to hear everyone’s story about their community.

More on what we’re planning next in another post.

Welcome Alex, our Independent Public Advisor

It is with great pleasure we would like to introduce Alex Ivancevic; who has taken on the role of our independent public contributor, helping oversee the project, providing an external perspective and accountability to the team.

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Alex works for West Itchen Community Trust, a social enterprise established for the community development and regeneration of inner-city Southampton. WICT’s vision is: To work as an independent Trust to continue with the regeneration of the West Itchen area, to champion its needs and to assist the aspirations of the people living and working there.

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Alex has an incredible wealth knowledge, and insight into the rich, vibrant and culturally diverse groups living in inner city Southampton. He trained as a Community Organiser (under the National Community Organising programme) and uses the community organising approach in his work – which is all about direct engagement with a wide range of communities in Southampton and supporting collective action.

Alex: “I am a passionate believer in local governance and participation. I believe people should have more say and be given more direct involvement in shaping and reflecting public services”.

Reaching Out Project – An Introduction

Welcome to the blog of the Reaching Out project, ran by the Wessex Public Involvement Network.
We want to offer everyone the opportunity to have their voices heard, and a way to influence the future of healthcare. We want to celebrate the diversity of our community and empower all social groups in Southampton to be visible, be active and be listened to.

What is the Reaching Out project about?

Our aim is to try to build relationships and begin to work with currently underrepresented social groups in Patient and Public Involvement, or PPI. PPI can be explained as research that is actively planned and/or conducted by or with members of the public, rather than to, for or about them.

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Changing the way we think about Public Involvement in Research

Author: Megan Barlow-Pay

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Public Involvement

Public Involvement in research is a powerful, potentially landscape changing, tool. Putting patients at the heart of service design, treatment and intervention development, priority setting, and implementation is part of a changing ethos and culture within the NHS and academia.

The potential impact of Pubic Involvement is huge; shaping the way we understand, research, and deliver healthcare through the direct involvement and collaboration of those people it affects.  Working with patients and members of the public can provide different perspectives, an ‘on the ground’ understanding of the needs and barriers service users face. It helps us make sure we research the questions that actually matter, and that changes to services are appropriate. It is underpinned by democratic principles, and can play a role across wider society to help ‘de-mystify’ research.

Our previous work… 

Some preliminary work undertaken by our team evidences some of the issues faced in Public Involvement. Our ‘diversity motoring’ project looked at demographic data from public contributors working with local organisations, and compared this to the wider demographics of the corresponding Wessex population. Findings from this work included an over-representation of those with high levels of educational attainment and an under-representation from ethnic minority backgrounds.

So, what’s the problem?

We know that health inequalities exist. We also know that different people access services differently, through different means and with different priorities.

As advocates for the patient voice, we believe that part of reducing health inequalities relies on addressing issues around diversity in service user involvement. Our work suggests that people from some marginalised or under-represented groups are not being offered the opportunity to shape and influence research happening locally. The outcome of this could mean services are not tailored to the needs of these groups, despite them often experiencing disproportionately poor health outcomes. The downstream effect of this can result in the potential for further increasing health inequalities in our communities.

Reaching Out Southampton

This blog details our experience of delivering on a project called ‘Reaching Out’. The project is a collaboration with community groups, to design and deliver opportunities for involvement in the heart of communities. By taking Public Involvement out of a clinical or academic setting, and into the community we are hoping to reach previously unheard voices.