All that I knew for definite back then was that, from 1 April 2016, Greater Manchester (GM) was apparently going to have ultimate responsibility for how the £6 billion of health and social care funding it receives would be spent. So in June last year I reached out to colleagues at VSNW and GMCVO and was made aware of an open letter to the interim Mayor of Greater Manchester Tony Lloyd, being written on behalf of the VCSE Sector, that was beginning to take shape. It felt important and I readily signed, recognising that a network was starting to take shape around some of the key messages. That letter and the subsequent conversations it triggered, led to the development of the GM VCSE Devolution Reference Group for which I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a member.
At the time the group was referred to by some as a ‘coalition of the willing’. Effectively, a group of self-selecting people who came forward, wanting to engage and represent the sector in discussions and decisions linked to devolution. What has excited me most since then has been the opportunity to meet with, and build relationships with, colleagues who I may never have met whilst doing the ‘day job’. It feels like a lot has been achieved by the group in that year, too much to write about in detail here, but I would say check out this link for further info http://www.vsnw.org.uk/areasofwork/devolution/gm or email email@example.com if you’re interested to find out more about how we have been trying to ensure that the sector is part of the Devolution puzzle.
So what do I know now?
Well….it’s complicated! It may sound obvious, but inevitably the challenge of reimagining a £6 billion health and social care system (let alone all the other ‘systems’ operating around it) comes with a fair share of governance and strategy. But my personal, and I believe our collective experience has been that, we are pushing against an open door in terms of the sector being represented. Leaders from the GM HSC Partnership such as Warren Heppolette and since his arrival as Chief Operating Officer Jon Rouse, have made public commitments about the role and importance of the VCSE Sector.
Thing’s need to be done differently! Again, probably obvious, but the reality is that to not only make the savings required; but also reduce inequalities and improve the health of everyone living in GM, there needs to be a radical rethink about how services are delivered. Some of the language is changing too - terms such as Community Development and Social Movement have become commonplace, whilst Social Value is very high on the agenda once again. All of which, for me at least, points towards more opportunities for people and organisations from across GM to get involved, inform and co-design the future that we want to see for residents and communities. Some fantastic examples already exist of where this is happening, such as the insightful (& award winning!) Taking Charge Together report, coordinated by GMCVO and the CVS and Healthwatch networks; the excellent news that the LGBT Foundation Pride in Practice scheme will be rolled out further across GM; and the exciting work going on around the Cancer Vanguard involving lots of VCSE partners to name a few.
We’re always Stronger Together! As the Welsh football team proved, it’s not always having the best individuals (no offence intended to Gareth Bale) that makes things happen. A collective effort and commitment can achieve much more than going it alone. Since starting to think about and get involved in GM Devolution, at the Stroke Association we have been having conversations and starting to build meaningful partnerships with many more local and national VCSE sector partners, recognising that by coordinating our skills and expertise we can achieve much more for our stakeholders and the communities we work in.
All of which really encapsulates some of the reasons I’m so excited that Wellbeing Our Way has come to GM. I was fortunate enough to be involved in early conversations with National Voices about the possibility of bringing Wellbeing Our Way “Up North”, followed by attending the hugely successful Peer Support workshop that took place in Manchester in June. Wellbeing Our Way is about doing things differently, specifically Peer Support and Self-Management to start with here, but also doing it as a group and a network, with others who are trying to do it for themselves. As is always the case with anything that is really innovative or new (read Wellbeing Our Way or Devolution) it’s likely to be complicated and it may not be exactly clear at the outset what the outcome will be… But in my experience, if you do get involved, share and contribute what you can; then the chances are that new things will start to happen, new connections and opportunities will arise, so ultimately, bit by bit, it will all start to make a little bit more sense!