We are delighted to interview our Steering Committee Chairperson Katie Higginson. Thank you Katie for all of your support and being such an advocate for the Alliance.
1. Tell us about who you are and what you do?
I’m CEO of Community Impact Bucks, a local charity that helps people to get involved and make a difference in Buckinghamshire’s communities. For more than 45 years we have helped people to find volunteering opportunities, and helped charities and not-for-profit groups to get started, be effective and grow. We also work directly with local communities to support community action and build resilience.
As well as running the charity alongside our brilliant leadership team and Trustees, I also work to champion the work that charities, voluntary and community groups and social enterprises do in the county. I engage strategically with public and private sector partners to influence them to work more effectively with the VCSE sector, and I represent the voices of the wider VCSE sector in Buckinghamshire forums like the Health and Wellbeing Board, the Skills Advisory Panel and the VCSE Partnership Board.
2. How did the steering group come together and how is it important to build an alliance across BOB?
In 2017-18 Community Impact Bucks co-ordinated a delegation of Buckinghamshire charities and voluntary groups and local public sector partners, one of 8 delegations to participate in a national programme led by NCVO and NHS England, consulting on how to involve the voluntary sector in the transformation of Health Service.
NHS England subsequently launched the VCSE Leadership Programme to enable better partnership working between the regional Integrated Care System and the VCSE sector and enhance the role of the sector in strategy development and the design and delivery of the health system transformation.
We brought together a partnership of the VCSE support and development organisations (often known as ‘local infrastructure’) from across Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West to secure funding from the NHS England and join the second cohort of the programme. Through the programme we are able to learn from the experiences of other regions where they are making these changes happen, and collectively we can influence national health policy and practice, too.
We know from experience the value of collaboration and the power of our collective voice, but those mechanisms haven’t previously existed at a regional level for Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West. Funding from NHS England allows us to create that mechanism – the Alliance – and provide a trusted and recognised two-way communication line between the health system and the VCSE sector across the region.
3. What is the role of the steering group and chair of the steering group?
The steering group is responsible for overseeing the co-ordination of the Alliance, monitoring that its objectives are being met and ensuring it is joined up with other initiatives. Steering group members have strong local networks in the places they work, and are able to reach the people and organisations to involve in the Alliance’s work. Each of the VCSE infrastructure organisations has a role to champion the sector in its entirety, from the smallest grassroots voluntary groups to the major charities providing services.
As Chair of the steering group, I work with the project lead to set the agenda for these meetings, I chair the meetings themselves, and support the project lead in delivering the project, managing the budget, monitoring and reporting to our funders (NHS England and BOB ICS).
4. What do you see the benefit being for member organisations?
Membership of the Alliance provides the opportunity to influence how the regional health system interacts with the VCSE sector right from the start of the ICS transformation. Together, we have a stronger collective voice on the issues that matter to us – approaches to commissioning, high expectations of social prescribing, engaging lesser-heard communities and tackling health inequalities.
Members will have better influence on a local level too –strengthening existing local relationships, opening doors that we’ve been knocking on for some time, and where there are gaps or poor practice we can point to better examples elsewhere in the region and leverage our connections at BOB-level to drive change.
There are huge benefits to being part of a regional network of like-minded organisations, providing peer support, knowledge exchange, opportunity to share great practice and roll out successful projects, identify and address gaps in provision. Members can make links with organisations from elsewhere in the region that we may not otherwise have had the chance to engage with.
A major concern shared across the membership is about funding – that there are high expectations from VCSE involvement in health, but that this will fail and even put existing success at risk if not resourced appropriately. We have some tough conversations ahead, but I firmly believe that the work of the Alliance will open up opportunities to access new funding, and together we can make a stronger case about how to maximise our collective resources.
Interested in being part of the Alliance?
Invitation to Our Next Meeting To join the next BOB VCSE Health Alliance Meeting, on 25/01/2022 from 13:00 – 15:00. Please follow the Eventbrite link and register. bvcsehealthalliance3.eventbrite.co.uk
Community Impact Bucks hosts the work of the alliance as part of our work alongside our counterparts in Oxfordshire and Berkshire West to deliver the BOB VCSE Health Alliance of member VCSE organisations, working collaboratively to improve health care systems for people across Bucks, Ox and Berks.