Community enterprise: helping to deliver health and well-being and tackle health inequalities

Sian Lockwood, Community Catalysts (originally posted February 2015)

Interest has been growing over the last few years in the role that small, local community organisations and enterprises can play in the health and well being of their local communities.

What are community enterprises?

Community enterprises are simply local people using their gifts and skills creatively to deliver support and services that benefit other local people and their community. Some blur the distinction between service provider and service user – many enterprising people in the community care and health sector use social care and health services themselves. Many of the imaginative responses of local people and communities to an identified health or social care need look nothing like a traditional health or social care service.

Impact

The importance of community enterprise, and in particular those operating on a micro scale in delivering choice for people with personal budgets and personal health budgets has been known for some time and was highlighted most recently in the White Paper Caring for our future: reforming care and support  published in July 2012. But their contribution to the health and well-being of local communities is much more than simply providing a choice of service for people with health or social care needs. In areas where they are supported well, they provide an important route into work for local people, including local people with disabilities or long term health conditions. They harness creativity and enable people to stay in their communities for work and services.  They help to build the capacity of their community to identify and prioritise issues and develop and deliver solutions. They draw upon informal as well as formal resources and can help people make their money go further. They have the potential to enhance and extend public services.

Engagement

Health and Wellbeing Boards have the broad task of promoting the health and well-being of their local area and of tackling health inequalities. The Marmot Principles underpinning local strategies to tackle health inequalities go much further than health and social care, highlighting the importance of employment, people able to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives and health, and sustainable places and communities. Small and micro community enterprise can make a valuable contribution to a health and well-being strategy designed to tackle health inequalities – which on the face of it makes it difficult to understand why they are not included in every Joint Strategic Needs and Assets Assessment and every joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy.

The answer can be found in the size and diversity of community enterprise, the very attributes which allow them to respond flexibly and deliver highly personalised services but also pose a real challenge to organisations and bureaucracies seeking to understand, engage with and support them. In most areas community micro-providers operate under the radar of commissioners and their impact isn’t measured. The majority will not have a contract with the local authority or CCG and so will not appear on official lists, most operate outside the traditional health and social care sectors and many are only known to the people who use their service. Identifying, connecting and nurturing with existing and potential community enterprises therefore takes time, energy and imagination.

We find that the only way to convey the impact of the many inspirational community entrepreneurs is to tell their stories. Read the case studies of the brilliant work being undertaken by Funky, Fitness and FunFood Positive and Whole Body Therapy.

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