To Hull and Back

Last week I had the complete joy (except for the awfulness that is the M6 and M62!) of heading over to Hull to speak at a gathering of Public Health and Public Sector people from across Yorkshire, The Humber and The East Riding, called “Minding the Gap”, hosted by the amazing Ian Copley. In my next blog, I will give the podcast of what I said and written piece, for those who prefer that format, about Population Health and the realities we are currently facing.

 

However, I thought it just worth reflecting on a really interesting lecture I heard by Prof Franco Bianchini from Hull University (https://www.hull.ac.uk/work-with-us/research/institutes/culture-place-and-policy-institute/culture-place-and-policy-institute.aspx) on the impact of Hull being European City of Culture 2017. It was amazing to see this little video, presented by the excellent Director of Public Health, Julia Weldon (https://www.yhphnetwork.co.uk/about-us/julia-weldon/), and to hear of so many wonderful, creative, life-giving, community-building initiatives that happened all over the City and the beautiful stories of people celebrating the history and many facets of this place. 

 

The sense of wellbeing and happiness in the City increased significantly during that year (not much of a surprise) and the injection of finance into Hull gave opportunity for some creative regeneration and fantastic projects. Unfortunately, since 2017, the overall sense of Wellbeing and happiness has now fallen to below what it was in the years preceding Hull as the City of Culture. What a shame! And interestingly, if you study other Cities that host Olympics, Commonwealth Games, or have other similar initiatives, you see the same pattern over and over. The hype wanes, the carnival moves on and what is left?

 

There is so much we can learn from this, if we want to. Firstly, if we only plan for an event and do not think about it as an agent of transformation for the future, then we risk sowing huge promise and then once the event finishes, things just go back to being the same old, breeding disappointment and disillusionment. This must be taken into account in the planning. Becoming a City of Culture gives the opportunity for a City to come together, not only for an event, but to turn the future of the city, releasing dreams of what it can become. This requires much wider ownership and community conversations about keeping the momentum and building on it. Secondly, leaders across the city need to own the future and hold true to the principles, especially once the funding is withdrawn. It’s really sad that the vast majority of schools have not felt able to continue the great initiatives in the creative arts or sports, which began and were having a great effect on children and young people’s physical and mental health, due to the pressures they feel around delivery of the curriculum. Surely there was an opportunity to reimagine the whole realm of what education might look like in the City of Hull, aligned to the values of the City and its hope for the future?

 

In the Jewish tradition, at certain points along their journey from Egypt to Israel, the people would build an ‘Ebenezer’. It was a pile of stones to mark a certain point on their journey that would help them remember what was past and what they were looking forward to. It was more than a monument. It was a stake in the ground which called to memory where they had come from, what they had been through but also opened up an altogether different future. My hope for Hull, is that 2017 City of Culture becomes an Ebenezer for the city, something they can look back on and say – “that’s when things really began to change, that’s when we celebrated our past but began to build a new future together, a city that really works for everyone and the environment we live in!” I fear, however, that the opposite will be true….a temporary flash in the pan and then back to the same old, same old……

 

I hope with all my heart that it isn’t too late for Hull to regain this momentum and despite the lack of funding (although this begs whole new questions about devolution) for the city to take hold of the promise of what could be. I also really hope that Coventry (the city of my birth) really hears and learns from the lessons of Hull and begins now to think of being the City of Culture 2021 to springboard into a new future for the city, rather than have yet another event that feels good in the moment, but does not bring the transformation of the City that is so desperately needed. Now is the time for Coventry to dream and to think creatively about what this opportunity really might become. 

Share This:

Share

Let The Children Play!

In The Guardian today, there is an article in which the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, is calling for more adventure playgrounds across the country, especially in our ‘poorer’ neighbourhoods. She believes we need more play schemes across the country for the long summer holidays which she argues are having a profoundly negative effect on children’s physical and mental health. Most starkly, she cites a study in which “primary school children lost 80% of the fitness levels gained during term time. The poorest 25% experienced a drop in fitness levels 18 times greater than the richest 25%”. Sadly, this undoes some of the great work of schemes like ‘the daily mile’ in schools and has hugely negative consequences in terms of future health risks.

 

I would personally therefore welcome such a move – it is absolutely the case that increased active play and exercise improves a child’s physical, mental and social health. There is no doubt that more facilities, especially located closer to home would be better than having none at all….but I don’t really think it’s quite that simple (and for the record, I don’t think Anne Longfield thinks it is that simple either, she is a great champion for children across the UK). There is a danger, that by saying children need to play more, that it gets oversimplified by policy makers and could perhaps sound a little too Marie Antoinette! Yes our long summer breaks are becoming like ‘battery hen’ experiences for many children across the UK, but simply building them more parks is not going to change this, and I can give you few reasons why.  To understand why kids are spending more time indoors and on screens, we need to dig a little deeper into some pretty uncomfortable truths and wrestle with the complexity of them.

 

I have a friend, who is one of the kindest and best people I know. On top of his very heavy work schedule, he invests an enormous amount of time into young people, who are often living with really challenging circumstances. Every summer, he runs activities for them, right through the summer break and does extraordinary things. Ten years ago, when he applied for funding through a variety of grants (and let me tell you he is a seasoned wizard at winning bids for such things) he was getting £20k for a packed out summer programme. These days, he struggles to raise £4k. That leaves the situation in which he is having to ask families to contribute more for the care of their kids over the summer. What this leads to is a drop in numbers and more kids stuck in at home.

 

I have another friend, who runs a school in one of our most deprived communities. Throughout the summer break, her school opens up to ensure the kids from the locality do not go hungry and so that families can afford to eat. There have been emergency appeals from many food banks this year. Many working families are seriously struggling to provide both childcare, through the long summer breaks and food….there are some really tough choices to be made. Out of 50 young people on a local holiday scheme, that I know of, 19 of them were relying on daily food parcels, meaning they have no idea from one day to the next what they will be eating and actually no choice about it. When you are working two jobs and struggling to make ends meet, what else can you do with you kids? Just let them roam the streets?

 

I know a police officer who works on some of the toughest estates in the UK. He tells me that the war on drugs has utterly failed and the gangs are absolutely running the show. Cuts to the policing budget and massive stress levels in the force, as a result, are seeing whole neighbourhoods overrun with crime. The play parks in these places are totally unsafe. No parent in their right mind would let their child out to play in such an environment. It’s a bit different in leafy Surrey or middle class suburbiaville. Without police to build relationships with young people and keep the streets safe, simply building new parks or putting on play schemes will not be enough. Without children’s centres, youth centres and health facilities readily available (many of which have been closed or privatised and so less affordable to communities who need them most), there are less places to go.

 

If I’ve learnt anything over the last few years, it is that we have to stop coming up with schemes that we think are good for communities and simply delivering them. We have to really learn to listen to people’s stories and the complexities of their situations and from that place hear what it is that they want and need and then create real partnerships to bring about that change together. Hilary Cottam is all over this in her brilliant book ‘Radical Help’, which is a must read.

 

I love that Anne Longfield, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Sarah Woolaston see this whole issue as being so massively important. Play schemes and parks and cutting sugar (though all excellent) will simply not be enough in and of themselves to get kids out doors and playing in them. We need a a very holistic approach which starts with communities, hearing what their dreams are for their kids and hearing the hopes and desires of the kids themselves. Next we need to understanding what the steps will be to get there. Then we have to build that together. I would suggest a great place to steward this kind of resource would be through health and wellbeing partnerships, like the ones we have in Morecambe Bay. Cross public and voluntary sector partnerships, rooted and working well in their local communities. But I can also guarantee, that this idea will require the right kind of resource – appropriate funding of the required schemes, affordable access to facilities, work that pays a decent wage so families can afford to eat and taking the safety of our streets seriously. That is going to take both a reimagining of youth work/social provision and appropriate help and resource to a diminished and struggling police force. Bring on the parks, but first listen and make sure they can be used!

Share This:

Share

Population Health and the NHS 10 Year Plan

Tweet https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/nhs-10-year-plan   This is an excellent blog from Sir Chris Ham and Richard Murray at the Kingsfund and highlights some important issues that deserve real consideration and debate. Get a cup of tea, reflect on it and then join the discussion. Here are my reflections on it.   Improving population health and closing the [Continue Reading …]

Share

Heathrow and Health

Tweet If MPs are serious about the health of the population (and it seems they are, given recent promises of increased funding for the NHS), then when they vote later today about whether or not Heathrow airport should get a third runway and therefore a programme of expansion, they should ask them selves the following [Continue Reading …]

Share

Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

Tweet So, the NHS is in another winter crisis. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a crisis  as: 1 A time of intense difficulty or danger. ‘the current economic crisis’ Mass noun ‘the monarchy was in crisis’ 1.1 A time when a difficult or important decision must be made. As modifier ‘the situation has reached crisis point’ [Continue Reading …]

Share

Inconsistent and Incongruent Messages

Tweet The King’s Fund have just released an excellent video to help explain how the NHS works and some of the complex things going on in it at the moment. It doesn’t shy away from making it crystal clear who is in charge of the money, nor the difficulties we’re facing in staffing and resource [Continue Reading …]

Share

What Lies Beneath?

Tweet Do you sometimes wonder what is really going on? As the furore around the planned 5-day strikes by junior doctors unfolds, with all the clamour and the noise, the positioning, the power plays, the arguments and the counter-arguments, I wonder where is the truth amidst the madness? How have we reached a stage in [Continue Reading …]

Share

Making a Key Distinction in the NHS

Tweet There are two different narratives that are shaping the debate around the NHS at present. They are different stories, but they are becoming dangerously intertwined. I want to highlight the two stories and make a clear distinction between the two.   The first story is that there are some ways in which the NHS [Continue Reading …]

Share

Commissioning the 3rd Sector for the NHS

Tweet Amidst the current ‘efficiency savings’, or cuts by any other name, in the NHS, the voluntary or 3rd sector, including the faith communities are an absolutely vital partner in health and social care. Here in Morecambe Bay, we are seeing incredible work done by this sector. Genuinely, the safety net created across this Bay [Continue Reading …]

Share