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In February, we’ve been involved in meetings with the Health and Social Care network and with Social Prescribers. Also on a health theme, I have attended webinars focused on changes in health structure and implications for the voluntary and community sector, which I thought I would share with you.

It certainly takes some time to get your head around the changes taking place and the NHS jargon: ICP, STP, PCN to name just a few of the acronyms. But I thought it would be useful to share some of the information gathered from these sessions, including some explanation of the definitions:

PCN – Primary Care Networks: Brings general practices together to work at scale focused on service delivery, providing a wider range of primary care services. Primary Care Networks are expected to think about the wider health of the population, assessing the needs of their local population to identify people who would benefit from targeted, proactive support.

ICS – Integrated Care System: Is focused on the integration of trusts, commissioners, local authorities working collaboratively to provide joined up support to meet the needs across an area. The ICS coordinates services and plans to improve population health and reduce inequalities between different groups. The ICS Board has clear accountability for resources and making effective decisions. These systems replace the CCGs - Clinical Commissioning Groups, that are considered to be too small and are currently responsible for commissioning most of the hospital and community NHS services in the local areas for which they are responsible. The ICS will become a formal body with a strong partnership with the local authority.

STP – Sustainable Transformation Partnership: Brings together NHS, local authorities and other health and care organisations to collaboratively determine the future of their health and care system. STP’s are responsible for moving the integration agenda forward.

SP – Social Prescribing: A way for local agencies to refer people to a link worker. Link workers give people time, focusing on ‘what matters to me’, and take a holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing. They connect people to community groups and statutory services for practical and emotional support.

Commissioning of services is changing with the focus on population health, prevention, addressing health inequalities and partnership working. Advice for those VCS organisations hoping to get commissions from health is – show how you are affecting the health of the population, evidence what you are doing, have advocates and allies in GP’s, local authority and voluntary and community sector and show that you can make a difference.

There is a recognition now that the voluntary and community sector has become more visible during COVID-19 and that there is an opportunity for the sector to build on that by demonstrating the difference it can make. Housing, poverty and vulnerabilities are now acknowledged as being as important as an illness and will be key issues that need addressing over the next 12 months.

The NHS cannot do this on its own. Social Prescribers are seen as having an important role as part of the recovery process from COVID-19, putting patients views forward, taking an interest and having time to listen to patients and identify what community groups can do to help with a solution. There is agreement that the VCS should be involved in the ICS because of their knowledge and experience, as well as the health and wellbeing support they provide in local communities.

Let’s hope that this is a reality across all ICS’s.

Stay safe

Ann

 

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Ann Atkinson

Assembly Development Officer

 

 

 

 

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Diversity, inclusion and equality are everyone’s business, so it’s important that we continue educating ourselves, and listen to colleagues from under-represented communities and the wider sector who are willing to share their lived experience to inform how we work.

We will be providing bite sized information as part of an ongoing conversation and would encourage you to share this information with colleagues and encourage their participation.

Firstly we will be looking at Inclusion.

 

Inclusion

Inclusion means being proactive to make sure people of different backgrounds, experiences and identities feel welcomed, respected and fully able to participate. It is not only about creating a diverse environment but also about ensuring a culture exists where individuals can be their full selves.

The following brief YouTube videos talk about creating a culture of inclusion and about situations when individuals do not feel included. It is important that we all to recognise it’s okay to ask questions and acknowledge that there’s always more to learn.

The videos are no more than a few minutes long and you many want to use them as a basis for discussion in your own organisations.

If you have experiences where you have felt not listened to or have felt discriminated against by organisations then please do let us know so we can share stories which can help us all understand the impact of certain actions on others.

In telling us your stories, we want to be able to treat them in the strictest confidence, so please do not respond via the comments below.  Instead, email your stories to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

 

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Unconscious bias (or implicit bias)

Unconscious bias is often defined as prejudice or unsupported judgments in favour of, or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair.

Unconscious bias occurs automatically as the brain makes quick judgments based on past experiences and background. As a result of unconscious biases, certain people benefit and other people are penalized.

Although we all have biases, many unconscious biases tend to be exhibited toward minority groups based on factors such as class, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, religious beliefs, age, disability and more.

 

What can we do to combat unconscious bias?

It is important that we become aware, learn about unconscious bias and ways to combat it. Avoid stereotypes and over-generalisations, separate feelings from facts, engage in self-reflection to uncover personal biases.

The following videos will assist your learning of unconscious bias, providing more information about what it is, an example of unconscious bias, and actions you can take to mitigate it.

You may want to discuss in your organisations and share stories of where it has happened to you and where you have been aware of doing it yourself. Consider ways that can help you and your team address issues of unconscious bias.

 

 

 

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Networking online – the norm for the time being at least

 

Networking

 

With a couple of county-wide network meetings having been held online over the summer, it became clear that online networking would be the norm for some time and therefore it made sense to get the area network meetings back on track. This would provide an opportunity for groups in the north, south east and west to get together with their colleagues and share their experiences of operating under COVID-19.

A meeting with North Northumberland VCS organisations attracted 16 participants and it was great not only to hear how groups had adapted to continue to provide support for their beneficiaries but also to share information and re-connect with one another.

Adapting to digital has been a big learning curve for many organisations and service users, and preparing facilities so that they are safe and secure for users in the interim has been demanding, only to then be beset with a second lockdown.

The Assembly is keen that if there are issues that members want to raise and discuss then we can arrange online meetings on specific topics. This is exactly what we did when the issue of food arose – in particular food distribution, coordination, reducing waste and ensuring it reaches those in need.

We invited a number of groups that have an interest and role in this field and made a general invitation to groups too. Attendees talked about their experiences, such as the difficulties getting gluten free food and halal food for those shielding, the variability of some of the food received from suppliers, concerns about the increase in demand for food at the end of furlough, which we now know has been extended but will be of no help to those who have already lost their jobs.

The meeting also recognised the importance of working with Northumberland Communities Together and understanding their experiences of what worked well and what didn’t in terms of coordination and provision in the first lockdown, so we can all work together better in future.

The group were keen to meet on a regular basis to share information and good practice to assist in providing effective food provision to support residents and minimise food waste, and so a Food Network meeting has been arranged for late November. So do join us if your organisation is involved in providing, distributing and supporting residents with food (provide link).

Also if there are other topics that you would like to discuss with other organisations online then please do let me know.

Take care and keep safe.

 

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Ann Atkinson

Assembly Development Officer

 

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A new year is upon us and it’s a time when we might normally be planning the future for our organisations, but unfortunately we aren’t living in normal times and planning for the longer term is extremely difficult to do!

However, we cannot sweep things under the carpet and hope that it goes away. We need to be ready to react to opportunities, meet the challenges and continue to move forward in the best way we can.

The pandemic has demonstrated the resilience and adaptability of our organisations, which has been illustrated in the recent follow up survey undertaken by VONNE on the impact of COVID-19 on VCS organisations. Once again, Northumberland organisations were the highest responders to this regional survey which has meant that we have been able to analyse their responses separately.

Whilst some small organisations have not been able to meet, the majority have adapted their services to continue providing support, but concerns are expressed across all organisations about their ability to meet the needs of all beneficiaries. Digital exclusion of recipients of services, and also of some organisations too, has raised issues about the health and well-being of individuals who are difficult to reach in these circumstances and the importance of everyone being connected digitally.

Addressing the digital divide is more pressing than it has ever been. Organisations, wherever possible, have taken advantage of the short term funding to support COVID-19 activities and whilst the majority of organisations expect to breakeven by the end of the financial year, some are experiencing losses and there is particular concern about reduced reserves, end of short term support and longer term funding. Read the full analysis of Northumberland responses.

We continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on organisations and groups through contacts and online network meetings and we feed this information into regional meetings that are then cascaded upwards, so if there is information you would like to share with us then do please get in touch, and particularly if you have experiences that do not mirror the finding here. Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

And of course, if you need advice and support in relation to your organisation, whether that be around finding funding, governance, community development or volunteering issues, please do not hesitate to contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We are here to assist in whatever way we can.

Take care and keep safe.

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Ann Atkinson

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At the start of the month we were back in the office, for part of the week at least - the first time for almost six months. It was good to back and to be able to discuss issues face to face with colleagues, but strange to be in an environment with social distancing tape, lots of hand sanitiser and wipes, but they gave confidence that the space was safe and secure. 

The month started off with online meetings of the Assembly Executive and the VCS Liaison Group. The Executive meeting focused on discussing the Commission objectives for the Assembly for the next six months and the Assembly Manifesto. A final draft of the Manifesto has been sent to Assembly members to agree the principles and make any final comments. An action plan is currently being put together for the Assembly and this will be on the website as soon as it is finalised.

The VCS Liaison Group had a large agenda which was too much to get through in the time allowed, hence only the first couple of topics gave room for discussion. This is very unsatisfactory and makes taking forward issues very difficult. Fortunately I was presenting information on the impact of COVID-19 on the VCS in the early part of the agenda where there was time for discussion, and members appreciated the difficulties facing the sector but also praised the way they had stepped up to continue providing services during the pandemic. 

Part of the Commission objectives includes a review of the VCS Liaison Group and therefore we will be making sure our views are aired and that we move to a more effective group that can work together to deliver and influence more effectively.

I’m starting to organise area based on-line network meetings to provide the opportunity for groups to come together and share what they have been doing during lockdown. Topic based on-line discussion network meetings are also being arranged on areas of particular interest to organisations at the current time. Understanding the issues, concerns and support needs of the sector helps us to identify where we can provide support and where appropriate to raise with statutory partners. Meetings also provide opportunities for organisations to share good practice and learn from one another so do join us. Details of all these meetings will be in the fortnightly e-bulletin.

Take care and stay safe.

Ann 

 

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Ann Atkinson

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I think we all recognise the importance of connection in our jobs – never more so in fact than during the last eight months when the need to engage with colleagues to avoid feeling isolated and to keep up-to-date with what each other are doing has been so important.

We’re now holding Network meetings online on an area basis and groups are valuing that opportunity to meet together and share their activities. They want to continue with online meetings for the foreseeable future, at least until it is safe again to meet face to face.

We are keen to ensure that we are linked into the activities of Northumberland Communities Together wherever we can, and to encourage Locality Coordinators to attend network meetings. We’ll be doing likewise with the Social Prescriber link workers, who we are meeting in December. We will all be able to work together much better on the ground if we are aware of what each other are doing and know who to talk to when an issue arises.

The Food Network met again this month and members are keen to pursue opportunities for data sharing and agreeing monitoring procedures so that we can achieve a county-wide dataset. This will help us develop a better understanding of those facing food poverty and the impacts of food poverty across the county that we can then use for lobbying purposes. The Food Network is also a great opportunity to share learning and discuss issues of concern.

It is good news that the North of Tyne Combined Authority is setting up a Poverty Truth Commission in the new year, which will bring together community, civic and business representatives with people who have experience of living in poverty.  The new commission will aim to better understand the specific effects of the COVID pandemic for people living in Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland and come up with practical solutions. The impact of the coronavirus crisis on people already struggling and the steps needed for economic recovery will be a central theme of the Commission’s work.

The Assembly Executive has also met this month and suggested that it would be a good idea to update Assembly members with the details of Assembly Executive members and their roles since the recent changes of membership. Executive members are also keen to link with groups in their area of interest. We’ll be updating this information on the Assembly website as soon as possible, and we’ll also provide details in Northumberland CVA’s fortnightly e-bulletin in due course.

Do get in touch with Assembly Executive members if there are any issues you would like to share or discuss with them in their individual area of interest.

Also, the issue of getting groups to sign up to the Assembly Manifesto was raised in the meeting and it was suggested that a video might be worth thinking about. It is certainly important that we all think of different ways of getting our messages and information out to individuals and groups, and to think beyond just the written word. We will be giving this some thought.

Lastly, just a reminder that notes of the Assembly Executive meetings can be downloaded from the website to keep you up-to-date with activities and actions: www.vcsassemblynorthumberland.co.uk/about/assembly-executive

This will be my last update before Christmas, so I hope you can enjoy the Christmas break in whatever way you chose. 

Take care and keep safe.

Ann

 

 

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Ann Atkinson

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I am sure for many of us that the summer holidays have been rather different. Weighing up the pros and cons of going abroad and the risk of having to self-isolate for a fortnight on return, deciding where to go on holiday in this country and avoiding the crowds, or staying at home, which has probably been the safest bet – in particular for those with health conditions.

Whatever you have done I hope you have managed to have some sort of break.

 

Digital exclusion is an issue which we have all been aware of for some time – in particular, the importance for us all of being connected, which has certainly come to the fore during this pandemic. Digital working has been vitally important for voluntary and community organisations delivering services as well as for their beneficiaries, and I would like to thank those organisations who got in touch to let me know how this had impacted on service delivery.

Digital inclusion is a challenge and it is evident that not everyone is being reached for a variety of reasons, but it tends to be those who are most vulnerable who need support to get online. I’ve been looking at ways we could work towards digital inclusion, but this does require commitment from partners and a multi-agency approach to make progress.

A report will follow in due course.

The Assembly Executive Committee have discussed and given support for a Manifesto for the sector so that we can provide clarity about our intention and views. Whilst recognising that the voluntary and community sector is made up of a diverse, complex range of organisation including small community groups and larger county-wide organisations, it demonstrates that we are clear as a sector what we hope for and expect.

Thank you once again to those organisations that have contributed their views on the draft manifesto. A final draft will be on the Assembly website in due course and any further comments will be welcome.

Take care and keep safe.

Ann

 

 

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Ann Atkinson

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Equality

Equality means ensuring every individual has equal opportunities. By being conscious of and actively challenging bias or prejudice we make sure no-one is treated less favourably because of who they are or what makes them different from other people.

This requires a proactive approach to make reasonable adjustments that address the visible and invisible barriers people face. 

 

Equity

Equity is about making sure people are not unfairly prevented from accessing resources and opportunities nor that others have an unfair advantage. It is about giving people what they need for fair access. This is about removing inequalities to make sure everyone has the chance to realise their ambitions.

 

The following videos are no more than a few minutes long and are a good basis for discussion on these two concepts:

 

You might want to discuss or consider in your organisation the following questions:

  • What does a culture of equality mean to you and your organisation?
  • What can you do as an organisation to achieve greater equity?

 

 

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Recently I’ve been completing a report on the sector’s response to COVID-19 and recovery planning. It has been inspiring to see the way that groups have been innovative in the ways they have adapted their services and are also carrying out other activities to ensure that the needs of their beneficiaries and communities are met. We need to inform decision makers not only about the important work we are doing during this time but also its value and raise the profile of the sector. We are therefore keen to support the sector’s campaign #NeverMoreNeeded.

The government cannot afford to overlook or undervalue the voluntary and community sector at the moment. Its unique role and services are invaluable right now and will be essential when the country begins to heal and re-build as we recover from the initial coronavirus outbreak. Groups have been putting everything in to help communities at a time when they have had little chance to fundraise and loss of income from trading and providing services means for some it is putting their own survival on the line. To support the campaign visit the website to see what actions you can take.

On the same theme, our most recent online network meeting held this month heard how two organisations Bridge and Headway Arts had adapted their services during COVID-19 and the challenges they had faced. It was great to have such a good turnout. We also heard from Headway Arts how they carried out their AGM online which was most informative. Notes of the meeting and report are available on this website.

Whilst we are well aware we are not out of the woods yet, in terms of recovery planning, it would be helpful to hear if there is support that NCVA or the VCS Assembly can provide your organisation. There may also be emerging issues that we have not identified so please do keep us informed, we are here to support you!

Keep safe

Ann 

 

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Diversity means having differences within an organisation or setting. Diversity recognises we are all different in many ways. People with differing identities, backgrounds and experiences should all have equitable access to resources and decision-making. Some people prefer to use the term ‘representation’ to focus on how organisations should be reflective of the society we live in and the communities we serve. 

Diversity is the appreciation of our unique differences seen and unseen.

I think we can all recognise that, in general, charity boards are less diverse than the general public, and so too are volunteers. Volunteers are more likely to be older, well-educated and from higher socio-economic groups. Those from lower socio-economic groups are also less likely to be in certain leadership or representative roles, like being a trustee. There is clearly a lot to do to improve the diversity of our organisations

Creating a work environment that respects and includes difference, recognising the unique contributions that individuals with many types of differences can make and maximising the potential of all employees and volunteers is what we should aspire to. Diverse and inclusive workplaces earn deeper trust and more commitment from their employees. There is always more we can learn.

In our organisations it is important that we build a culture where difference is valued and a workforce that is representative of the people we serve. A culture that encourages, supports and celebrates the diverse voices of our employees and volunteers.

Here are some questions you might want to consider in your organisation.

  • Are employees and volunteers comfortable bringing their authentic whole selves to work?
  • Are all staff involved in decision-making wherever possible?
  • Do all staff and volunteers have a voice to express their experiences?
  • Do staff and volunteers feel safe in speaking up about things that concern them and confident that their concerns will be heard and acted upon?

It is important everyone reflects on their own experiences, assumptions and behaviours and is proactively inclusive in creating space for those often excluded. The two videos below reinforce the messages.

 

 

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It only seems a short time since I wrote the last monthly blog; well, much shorter than a month ago at least!

Whilst we all now seem reasonably well versed with working from home after three months of getting used to it, it can feel quite intensive at times. Without the breaks, chats, meetings and other usual interruptions of the normal office environment, it is very easy at times to work solidly without taking a break, yet it is so important to take time out regularly.  I know those of you with young children at home in particular are probably laughing at this as you are no doubt working around supporting your children and are always taking breaks and working unusual hours as a result.

For those of you who are currently furloughed this also presents anxieties and uncertainties. It is certainly not straightforward or easy for anyone, and I hope you are all managing in your own way to meet work, family and other demands as well as look after your own health and well-being.

Early in the month I attended a webinar on digital inclusion. One of the issues COVID-19 has raised is the impact on people of digital exclusion in terms of an inability to access support, to assist children’s learning, and the increased loneliness amongst some of our most vulnerable residents.

And it is not just poverty that results in barriers to accessing technology, there are parts of Northumberland where the availability of broadband is very poor, and some people have concerns about safety and safeguarding in terms of using technology and are therefore reluctant to engage, whilst others simply do not want to be part of the digital revolution.

COVID-19 has certainly forced a cultural change for many in terms of using technology and those of us who do use it, have had to become more tech savvy with video conferencing for example.

All of these are certainly issues which will need to be addressed in the future in terms of training and accessibility to provision.

Thanks to those VCS organisations that provided me with information about the economic impacts of COVID-19 on their organisation, which were very sobering, although not unsurprising. It is vital that we inform and get the messages out to decision makers about the way the sector is being impacted by the pandemic. Drawing on national and local information and data and on the examples you provided, we hope that we have raised awareness of the significant impact COVID-19 is having on the sector in Northumberland and the need for financial support. Northumberland VCS Assembly’s Economic Impact of COVID-19 report and a summary report can be downloaded from the Information Centre.

Whilst we cannot hold network meetings in their usual form, we are planning to hold more Zoom network meetings in the near future. We’ll be advertising them in the usual ways, so please do join us to participate and share your views.

Take care and keep safe.

 

Ann Atkinson

Assembly Development Officer

 

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