CHEX National Conference 2017: Power, inequality and community-led health - report

On 1st March 2017 Community Health Exchange (CHEX) welcomed community members and colleagues from across Scotland for our National Conference ‘Power, Inequality and Community-led health’

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The venue, The Studio in Glasgow’s city centre, Hope St, provided a bright and upbeat space in which to explore the conference themes.

A common response used in feedback was the word “inspirational” particularly when referring to presentations by community activists.

One participant summed up the day:

“Venue great, food delicious, good interaction with audience. Plenty of opportunities for network and discussion.”

Best thing about today’s conference?

“Community groups presentations – real stories make such an impact”

“The personal testimonies of community activism and engagement”


MaruskaMaruska Greenwood of LGBT Health and Wellbeing was our Chair for the day and kicked off proceedings by asking us to find somebody we didn’t know and introduce ourselves. This set the tone for a highly participative event where meeting and learning from others was the order of the day.

Maruska introduced us to her organisation’s roots, development and approach and to the Lothian Community Health Initiatives Forum in which she is an executive member. Maruska also spoke of the support CHEX provided to her organisation over the years and specifically of the benefits of a CHEX study tour to Northern Ireland when she was newly in post.

Following this introduction to the day Maruska introduced us to each speaker in turn.

Power and Inequality

Elinor DickieFirstly we heard from Elinor Dickie of NHS Health Scotland who told us about her recently published paper on the topic of Power and Health Inequalities entitled Power – a health and social justice issue . Elinor told us that it was relatively new for the NHS to speak about power and issues related to empowerment.

She spoke of different types of power detailed within her paper, including ‘invisible power’ which can be internalised by us as part of the status quo e.g. media portrayals of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving poor’ and undervalued roles of women.

Her presentation was much appreciated by participants as one person recorded in their feedback

“Hearing the word ‘oppression’ from an NHS Health Scotland worker in a presentation"

Fighting Back

We were then introduced to Maureen Cope MBE from the Ardenglen Family in Glasgow.

Maureen spoke of how she became involved in campaigning for better housing in Castlemilk by helping establish a community based housing co-op in the 1980s. She showed impressive pictures of local housing as it had been and how it was transformed by the regeneration funding that she had campaigned for. She described herself as “totally committed to the rights of local people” and of how more recently she “took up the cause of fighting the bedroom tax, which was noted by the human rights commission”. Her anecdote of lifting a banner which was not her own with a risky comment about the leader of the Lib Dems greatly amused our audience. Maureen has visited Westminster and campaigned on many social issues including welfare reform and its consequences and was pleased that the Scottish Government have put in place some mitigation in terms of discretionary payments for those affected by the bedroom tax.

We spent time discussing what these presentations meant for us personally and our collective work and developed some questions for the speakers and each other.

Maureen was asked about her drive and finding people with the right capability. She said because conditions were terrible people were motivated to work for change, “but it takes passion and commitment and we were damn sure we were going to make a difference”…“people now have nice houses and forget that there are other things to fight for but it takes determination and a lot of energy”

Stick your labels

Before breaking for lunch Rachel Thomson of the Poverty Alliance told us about their Stick your labels campaign and of the opportunity to sign the pledge to their campaign which focuses on three issues. Poverty is not inevitable, attitudes matter and actions to change attitudes.

Introduction to the afternoon

After a busy networking lunch, we began the afternoon with an intriguing energiser where some of us found that counting to three was not as straight forward as we thought!

Our Stories

We were then introduced to three people, two of whom, Donna Henderson and Donna McKenzie had, a year ago, benefitted from CHEX training in public speaking.  This had been part of a capacity building effort supporting their membership of  a Go Well Panel, part of a Glasgow Centre for Population Health’s (GCPH) Go Well longitudinal study on health within the city.

Donna Henderson Go Well and Tron St Mary’s Youth Group

Donna told us of her journey from someone reluctant to leave the house, battling on a daily basis with depression, into a more confident person able to speak up and give her views and get more fully involved in community action. She told us of the importance of becoming involved in community activity through providing a toddler group and preparing the ground for a community garden. She also highlighted what she has learned, through the Go Well Panel, about the importance of Housing Associations and their differing approaches to reaching out to the communities they serve. Donna’s ultimate ambition is now to become involved in working in a community development role to enable her to support others on a similarly empowering journey.

Donna McKenzie from Beads and Blether and Deborah Hamilton Community Links Practitioner

In a discussion with Deborah Hamilton, Donna's Community Links Practitioner, Donna spoke in a deeply personal and powerful way, describing her wellbeing and empowerment journey in her work with Go Well, the importance of Beads 'n' Blether, where she is now treasured as the treasurer and how she is 'passing it on' by supporting others in the community.  Donna praised the role Deborah and her colleagues at Beads 'n' Blether had along the way. 

Donna told us:  “Before I didn’t live life, I just spent time in the house, I put on weight and got type 2 diabetes. My GP referred me to Deborah and we had a big conversation.”

Detailing the changes in herself she said

When I first went I felt like I was going to the head teacher but now I feel we are on a level and we can talk about anything.”

Illustrating the difference in her confidence she told us

“At first I was too scared to go in but when I met Beads ‘n’ Blether it changed me. To be here today speaking is my greatest achievement”

 “I love Beads ’n’ Blether, I love doing it. They are there to support you. That’s how the group works. If I didn’t have the group I don’t think I would be here.”


Four Workshops were offered to participants on the day.

Workshop 1

What does the Community Empowerment Act mean for Community-led Health?

This workshop was facilitated by Robert Cuthbert from CHEX who gave an overview of the topic and posed two questions to participants. What does the Community Empowerment Act mean for Community-led Health? And What opportunities does the Act provide for communities to get involved in how decisions are made and services are delivered? Two of the conference speakers were amongst the workshop participants, Elinor Dickie who presented on her paper which analyses the role of power in health inequalities and Maureen Cope who had provided us with the perspective of a community activist dealing with how power is deployed by those in authority over decisions made in communities. This lead to a well-informed discussion in smaller groups within the workshop.

Workshop 2

What is the place of Community-led Health in the integration of Health and Social Care?

Susan Paxton of CHEX facilitated this workshop which looked at the integration of health and social care and the opportunities and challenges for community led health. From the introductions, participants were a mix of people who were already active in health and social care processes, and those who were looking to find out more about what it meant for them and their organisations. Susan provided a brief introduction on how the integration of Health and Social Care services represents a massive change in how local services are delivered and requires a shift in the balance of power from service providers to service users, local people and communities so that they can better influence how services are delivered. Participants viewed an example of how community led health can contribute to health and social outcomes

and went on to discuss the opportunities and challenges they face to participate in local integration processes. Challenges included getting access to local integration funds and community led approaches being recognised and valued.

Workshop 3

The Power of Local Networks

Elspeth Gracey from CHEX facilitated this workshop in which Iain Stewart of the Lothian Community Health Initiatives Forum told us how the Forum has worked over several years to build positive relationships with statutory sector partners and the benefits that have derived from that work. Forum members have been able to secure recognition of the work they do and are written into the strategic framework for work on health inequalities. They have developed a shared template for reporting on their work and can now more easily bring the collective impact of the work of member organisations into a collective document to show the power of the work they do. More info from this workshop available here and here.

Workshop 4

Poverty and Austerity – what is the impact and what can we do?

Andrew Paterson facilitated this workshop which included input from Rachel Thomson of the Poverty Alliance

This workshop focused on the impact of the current UK government’s austerity programme, both on communities and community-led health organisations. Andrew gave the main points from CHEX's briefing on welfare cuts and community-led health, Putting the Well into Welfare. Workshop participants agreed with the main points in the briefing. Those representing community-led health organisations described how they are increasingly finding that the people they work with are being adversely affected by the UK government's 'austerity' agenda; and that helping people to cope and navigate the system can take up time and resources. This, in turn, adversely affects their ability to concentrate on developmental activities such as building individual and community skills and confidence, growing assets and improving health and wellbeing. Community members and volunteers also gave first-hand accounts of how welfare cuts have pushed them further into financial hardship and negatively affected their health and wellbeing.

Participants then discussed how community-led health should respond to this challenge. It was agreed that the sector should aim to bring people together for a collective voice with a view to addressing wider politics. A practical way of achieving this is to build on existing on-the-ground work in order to campaign and increase influence. For instance, approaches such as Health Issues in the Community could be part of this. We should also make use of peer-support networks and share success stories.

Bringing it together

Susan Paxton, Head of Programmes (Community-led Health and Networking) at CHEX thanked all the speakers and those who provided inputs for the workshops.

She undertook on behalf of CHEX to continue to connect with the network on the themes identified during the today’s conference, and to continue promoting community led health as an integral approach to improving the health and wellbeing of local people and communities. 

A big thank you to everyone who made the day such a success.

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