Alex McCraw, The Health Creation Alliance
Together, that is the key word here. This last year and a half with Covid-19 has been the toughest and most challenging in recent times for everyone. Covid-19 did not discriminate and everyone suffered. That being said not everything that happened was doom and gloom.
I witnessed, as many did around our country, a unification of people from all walks of life who banded together to help and support of each other address a common and universal problem.
The basis many small community groups start up is to solve a problem, or support others in similar situations, but this time the community came together to take action on a national or even global scale, albeit by many small groups all fighting the same battle.
This got me thinking about the bigger picture for all of us more than normal… Our services, our support networks, our communities. The borders that so often define separate entities suddenly became blurred, or removed completely in many cases. In my local community alone, I saw everyday people reaching out with offers of support to friends, family, neighbours and service providers. Activities ranged from helping ensure vulnerable people had food and medication, to making and supplying PPE to services, frontline workers and those in need. Some of the hardest to reach people were engaged, and engaged in helping. New projects started to support young families, some with scrapped together limited funding, and on a voluntary basis. I watched groups and people that never usually interacted together forgot about any differences and work together to support others.
All this got me thinking…
...why can´t it be like this all the time?
One of the main thoughts were of the hardest to reach and the real lines of contact within our communities and what was different now. I looked at myself to begin with, both in the present and in the past. I started to realise that there were many differences, but most importantly there were constant factors that had not changed from my isolation days to my more confident self of today. In fact they had vastly improved. The biggest improvement was my initial points of contact, friends or family and more so over time those who I have established connection with in my community or network of connections. Is this the same for most people, yes is the answer.
The importance of human connections was reinforced as I spoke with others about initial points of contact, regardless of location, background, status, gender and all the usual differences. I think COVID-19 brought this to a forefront due to the isolation of so many, and as people reached out for the first time to their initial contacts, while also offering support to them. This in turn led to them supporting contacts of their contacts, creating a natural evolving and expanding support community. This seemed to be mirrored in many places around the country with stories of kindness and support all around.
Just like clapping for the NHS, the levels of support spread round our nation was something exceptionally good occurring in such a bleak time.
We have our frontline in health, we all acknowledge that. But there seems to be something missing from this frontline to some degree and that is where my thoughts are. That missing link or bridge from a person to the frontline health services. That initial contact.
I think it is time to evolve what our current perception of the frontline is and bring in a new role to create that link between people and services. A role that can become that initial point of contact because they would be from the immediate community. A team who would know the language, the barriers and challenges, but most importantly would know the people. People are going to be more relaxed, trusting and open with people they can relate to. People who can talk to them at the same level. This could be sort of an evolution of what we currently think of a Community Champion. A community-service bridge (CSB) worker type role. These CSB workers being from the community, based in the community, for the community but with direct connections into services. With them being focused on the community as a whole, this would help establish them as a connector and thus beginning and strengthening them as an initial point of contact with the local people and a bridge into local services.
Similar has happened and is happening in area’s but typically more focused on specific people – I.E. Salford Dadz for my local area. A support group for Dads and their families that basically became a voluntary non-service service. Take away or broaden that specific focus and turn that into a locational community focus and this widens the reach to anyone. With partnership work with local services, key targets can be found where more attention could be placed, as and when needed, due to that flexibility of not being singularly focused.
I hear and read it being constantly said about the difficulty in reaching “harder to reach people” or those who are “isolated”. But, they both have their own points of contact or communities just like everyone else. If we want to reach them, we need to become part of their communities and be a point of contact where that trust, familiarity and to a degree friendship breaks down the current barriers that limit and restrict engagement. CSB workers would have the ability and be in a position to do exactly that. Break the barriers of social divide, trust and difference by uniting smaller communities of individuals or groups into larger locational communities helping develop confidence and control through these better and stronger lines of contact.
In conclusion I feel now is the time when communities are at their strongest and services have openings into those communities that we rethink what the frontline actually is. We know services frontline and people know their frontline – we need to bridge both those frontlines to create a new equally beneficial and partnership based frontline where we truly are building back together.