Today’s theme for the European Public Health Week is “Your Local Community”. Joanne Vance, Director of Community Development Health Network (CDHN) talks about the Elevate programme which provides opportunities for the development of skills, knowledge and expertise in community development as a way to tackle health inequalities.
CDHN advocates using community development approaches to empower local communities, improve health and wellbeing and reduce health inequalities. We train, engage, and support our 2,100 members to raise awareness of the root causes of poor health, health inequalities and the social determinants of health.
Co-created with the Public Health Agency, the Elevate support programme demonstrates the benefits of working in partnership with communities and decision-makers to build community capacity and gather evidence on people’s experience of living and dealing with social and health inequalities. It comprises four complementary elements:
The Elevate Portal provides core information and access to various tools and resources on health inequalities and community development, needs assessment and evaluation, and the Community Development Outcomes Framework.
Elevate training offers communities high-quality, evidence-based training that builds on existing knowledge and expertise and develops planning and evaluation skills.
Community Mentoring and Networking: local groups work alongside community mentoring partners to make local connections, gain practical support, share ideas and themes, and celebrate achievements.
Elevate Grants Programme: A grant to enable local organisations to implement their project based on their local identification of needs and solutions.
Our introductory level Elevate Health Inequalities and Community Development Training programme reached 550 people from the voluntary and public sector who participated in face-to-face group training in 2019 or an online programme in 2020.
We engaged in deeper collaboration with organisations from rural and urban communities across Northern Ireland; to co-design, deliver, and evaluate grass-roots initiatives that seek solutions to promoting inclusion, reducing social isolation, and ending health inequalities.
An abundance of creative ideas on a range of local challenges emerged, such as developing a sexual health toolkit for people living with a learning disability; and a Sew & Skills programme for victims of human trafficking to create a safe and supportive space in their local community.
When the pandemic hit, groups adapted plans to meet the needs of their beneficiaries. Communities organised lock-down wellness packs for isolated older people, an online carers support forum for those isolated due to caring responsibilities, the provision of 164 online health and wellbeing sessions for cancer patients and their families. A local angling club built new waterside stands to enable access, participation and the enjoyment of older people and younger people with mobility issues in their activities.
In common, all projects demonstrate how local community organisations are applying learning to practice and making a difference. Networking, promoting access and inclusion to improve health and wellbeing, has increased their impact within their local communities.
 The funding for Elevate is kindly provided by the Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland, through its Transformation programme and developed under the PHA led ‘Expansion of Community Development Approaches’ Framework.