Promoting positive relationships
2. How far do your work and your service delivery models promote and build strong and positive relationships between people from different backgrounds and identities?
This question is about how we cross barriers in our society and help people to connect through conversations, both about difficult issues and about what unites us. Health inequalities are one of several key factors that affect people's life opportunities and can easily feed into myths, resentment and friction. Projects and services that create chances for people to meet, talk about and tackle issues they have in common can help build bridges and enable mutual support. Some health bodies have recognised that there are opportunities for positive contact where people come together to address their health needs through such activities as 'Cook and taste' sessions or 'Walk to health'.
Self assessment questions
- Do your mechanisms for community engagement bring people from different backgrounds together or do you deal with each group separately?
- Do patient pathways provide opportunities for dialogue across differences?
- Do they enable people to discuss commonly held concerns such as mental health problems, eating problems, long term health conditions, having a baby, being a carer?
- Do you have ways of encouraging people from different backgrounds to share ideas, advice, information and support?
- How do you support people to achieve a strong identity and sense of self when faced with the challenge of chronic ill health or long term limiting illness?
- Do you encourage and support people for whom English is not their first language to develop their ability to speak English, whilst recognising that they may need some information in their first language?
- Do you involve settled residents in welcoming and supporting new migrants?
- Do you provide support (which may include funding) for community events and projects that are aimed at bringing people from diverse backgrounds together or do you support projects led by individual groups?
- Do you promote positive images of the diversity of people and places within your community?
Some examples of good practice
Single or multi-group funding
There are several ways in which public agencies can help to bring different communities together. One is by the way they manage and distribute community funds. The Commission for Integration and Cohesion recommended that "funding to community groups should be rebalanced towards those that promote integration and cohesion, and single group funding should be the exception rather than the rule". The main reasons for this are as follows:
- Separate funding to groups that are seen as 'special' tends to reduce the pressure on mainstream funders to develop funding for the widest range of diverse groups. We need to tailor services for all groups on the basis that they are all special
- Separate provision reduces the opportunities for interaction
- Separate provision developed several decades ago, based on a handful of minority communities, and there is now a huge practical problem of making such provision for the wide range of diverse groups that exist in most of our towns and cities today
- Provision tends to be skewed towards longstanding minority groups, who often have well established community centres, staff and services whereas many newer communities have none of those advantages.
iCoCo supports the Commission's proposals but has commented that it is very important that they are applied with common sense:
- The proposals are not intended to prevent funding of general categories such as women, disabled people or young people. Single group identity is more narrowly focused than that;
- Projects catering for multi-minorities should not be seen as single identity groups. It is sufficient that projects embrace a number of significantly different groups;
- The aim should not be to reduce funding overall;
- There may be a temporary need to support new (and some established) communities as separate groups so that they can develop bonds before building bridges with other communities. A project to share good practice between people from Northern Ireland and Oldham confirmed that, in some cases, there may be a need for some continuing separate support that would be phased out gradually;
- The guidance should make it clear that it is not intended to prevent the use of funding to focus on single identity needs, such as those of Bangladeshi girls, or white working class boys. The guidance should be about how they are tackled, not whether they are tackled. It should encourage activities that meet those needs through some form of multi-group projects or mainstream programme, thus providing a valuable opportunity to enable communities to learn about each other and grow together.
Some of the difficulties faced by new migrants were highlighted in the Audit Commission's 'Crossing borders' report published in 2007. Long hours, poor English and no knowledge of where to get help, make it hard for them to get trusted advice and information. In some areas there is no information at all available to new migrants. However there are also many good examples of local partnerships providing information.
Excellent welcome packs have been produced by partnerships in places like East Lancashire, Hull and Bristol. In Coventry, the 'New Communities Forum' involves longer term residents in the process of welcoming and informing newcomers. There is also a useful guide published in 2008 by the Government based on research done by the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) called 'Communicating important information to new local residents'. This will be a useful tool for frontline service providers as it contains a lot of common sense suggestions addressing bread and butter issues that are often the source of local tensions and undermine cohesion.
In Plymouth and West Cornwall there has been a large influx of migrant workers, mainly from Eastern Europe, in recent years, attracted by employment in tourism and agriculture. In recognition of an urgent need to assist the newcomers as well as to support those local organisations and individuals (landlords, employers, farmers, teachers and public service providers including health workers) who had direct contact with them, the 'Amber Initiative' was established. As a company with charitable status Amber assists the settlement and integration of the new communities by providing a bridge for them to reach existing communities and public and voluntary sector organisations. Similar organisations have been established in many parts of the country, providing a potential vehicle for health bodies and other public agencies to engage with communities and contribute to community cohesion.
In 2006 Bolton Hospitals NHS Trust established a Disability partnership with Bolton PCT, Bolton council, the university and the college to consult and involve disabled people from all its communities. Following a consultation event BADGE (Bolton Active Disability Group for Everyone) was created with representatives from different ethnic groups, equal numbers of men and women and people with different disabilities. The group helps to integrate rather than segregate the different communities.
In Sefton, the main public sector agencies have worked together particularly on disability, race and gender issues to create the Sefton Equalities Partnership. They have developed an equality and human rights strategy and a community cohesion strategy which focuses on the needs of specific groups such as gypsies and travellers and migrant workers.
A programme called 'Working in true partnership with Polish people in Gloucestershire' has helped develop a sense of community cohesion among Polish people living in Gloucestershire with each other and with British people and other ethnic groups living in the area. The weekly drop-in sessions taking place in the community offering information and support for Polish people help to forge community links and foster community cohesion.
Haringey Libraries are running several projects throughout the year to promote the benefits of health and wellbeing. Residents of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to consider what they eat. The council is focusing on helping people to maintain a healthy weight by adopting a nutritious diet. The project is helping to bring together people of all ages within the community and from all walks of life.