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Achieving collaborative care will be a necessary and complex trick for the NHS to pull out of the hat and yet individuals and community groups, motivated by experience, expertise and compassion have been applying this model for decades.

In October 2014 the Community Development Foundation (CDF) launched its research, Tailor-made; how community groups improve people’s lives which was the first overall picture of its kind depicting this invaluable contribution. We wanted to illustrate the vital contributions that grassroots groups make to society and the importance of small grants to encourage local people to undertake activity, by paying for basic running costs.

By far the largest and most diverse of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) we learned that the estimated 600,000 – 900,000 groups in the UK prioritise health and wellbeing, along with community safety, physical environment and local economies. What was far more interesting were the eight unique characteristics of the sector, which would fill public and private sectors with envy. The small, largely volunteer led groups are seen as expert, needs-based, trusted, holistic, flexible, connected, committed and value for money – you can explore the findings on the report’s dedicated microsite or download the full report here.

In light of the findings of our ‘Tailor-made’ research, we asked community groups to send in stories about how their activities are improving peoples’ lives. Here are two that struck me as fantastic examples; I would go as far as to suggest many are unknowingly delivering informal services, relieving pressure on the over-stretched public sector.

Breathe Easy, Nottingham

Breathe Easy provides support to those living with a lung condition to help manage their condition by staying active. As well as weekly exercise classes, they hold monthly meetings where people can share their experiences of living with lung conditions, support and learn from each other. The group has even made a music video starring volunteers and services users. They share quotes about the difference the group has made, including “I’ve got my life back” and “There’s no cure, but I’m getting better”.

Health and Happiness For All, Waltham Forest, London

Health and Happiness For All provides a huge range of free healthcare activities for their local community and provides free volunteer training, to help volunteers provide a lived insight into the problems they are helping to solve, working alongside healthcare professionals. Their programme of therapies includes relaxation, a Stress Free Club and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). While support is available through the NHS, this community group alleviates the problems of oversubscription and long waiting lists.

So the big question for C4CC partners is how can we model modern health and social care services on these community driven responses? And how can we recognise, support and collaborate with them more effectively without destroying the essence of them – common-sense, people-centred approaches?

With a steepening devolution trajectory and shrinking public finances, this local and low-cost approach has to be part of the solution. Working with communities can be outside the comfort zone of many and so CDF has recently developed a suite of training, to improve the confidence and skills of particularly those in the public sector who want and need to take the first steps towards achieving the transformation required.