Forum Central believes working together is the best way to overcome problems during lockdown and in the future
SHARING expertise has been a big theme for voluntary and community groups during lockdown.
Forum Central - the collective voice for the health and social care third sector in Leeds - is a strong case in point.
The group, which is made up of 300 members, has been pooling its resources to support a range of groups for around five years. But the COVID-19 outbreak has seen it forge even stronger partnerships.
Pip Goff, from Forum Central, said: “So many third sector organisations have just stepped up so much. People have been incredible. They’ve still found really creative and different ways to support communities.”
Although their face-to face way of doing things has had to change because of the pandemic, their core work hasn’t. It still highlights the brilliant work that community organisations do and helps make connections with decision makers.
But Pip added: “What has come out of Covid is that we are getting much stronger partnerships, lots of people are working better together. Actually things are happening quickly. In some ways we have cut through some of the barriers and the time it used to take to make changes.”
Pip said a good example of this joined up way of working is the Leeds Outbreak Plan. The Public Health initiative seeks to manage covid outbreaks in Leeds. She added: “Because we have generally got some good partnerships and existing relationships, we have been able to use those local, trusted organisations and networks to help get information out to communities.”
But it also gave feedback to Public Health and the council about where their messages could be clearer. This included simple to understand infographics and messages translated into different languages to make sure the right message got the right people.
Another project which has also benefited from this approach is the ‘communities of interest’ scheme which tackles inequalities. Forum Central is working in partnership with Voluntary Action Leeds, Healthwatch and Leeds City Council to support a range of different groups like black, Asian and ethnic communities, people with learning disabilities, sex industry workers and the homeless.
Pip added: “It has enabled us to work to make sure we are getting good messages out to those communities through trusted local organisations. But we have also fed information back, like the views and experiences of people back to decision makers and been able to make decisions quickly.”
Forum Central has also had a similar experience on its digital exclusion work to help people, like travellers and older people, with computer skills. Flagging things up quickly has helped speed several processes up.
Pip said: “Pre-covid it would have taken months to write a report and get it heard at a meeting but we have been able to do some of those things much more quickly and help unblock some of the barriers. As a city Leeds has been trying to improve the health of the poorest fastest, but actually now there is such a strong focus because of covid on health inequalities that things like that will happen more quickly. There is a really strong commitment in the city to work more smartly and quickly in the future.”
She added: “We need people to have confidence in where they live and in the fact that we’re are trying to make it a better place. That will happen the more we work together.”
Forum Central brings a number of different groups together to tackle issues.
The network of health and social care third sector organisations in Leeds is delivered by the partnership of Leeds Older People’s Forum and lead organiser Volition (the mental health, physical and sensory impairment and learning disabilities forum).
Pip Goff, director of Volition, said Leeds has had individual forums for many years but Forum Central was set up with the idea that “the sum of the parts” would be stronger if they all worked together.
In pre-covid times it would hold face-to-face meetings for community groups to meet decision makers. But the pandemic has meant these have now had to be held by Zoom.
Training has also switched online. This month it is running ‘Summer Time Out’, a festival of learning for workers and volunteers in the community sector. Its key themes are wellbeing for the workforce and how managers can support them.
Forum Central is acutely aware that not everyone has a computer. It has been working with 100% Digital Leeds and the city council to identify charities which don’t have them. Grants of up to £1,000 have been made available to help buy equipment.