Dry eyes not as standard

Hello my name is Rob… and I’m the Head of Planning for the Leeds Plan within NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group and the Leeds Health Partnerships Team. However this blog isn’t about me or the work I do or the organisations I work for do.

I wanted to reflect on a recent emotional rollercoaster as I joined Leeds Community Foundation and a number of local businesses in meeting a number of community organisations and hearing first hand about the projects they run. I genuinely was not prepared for how much I would be moved as the day progressed.

By the time the day came to a close it got me thinking about why we call community and voluntary organisations as third sector when in fact for many people they’re the first sector and first port of call when the going gets tough.

I’ve been in the NHS a very long time, I refuse to say how long though, and have seen or heard about some ground-breaking treatments and advances in care however I’ve almost grown accustomed to this. We often get wrapped up in what immediately concerns us and forget that there’s people out there that need intensive support that doesn’t sit with the NHS or the council.

But before that I wanted to let you know why this day mattered to me. Prior to a single clinical commissioning group for Leeds, NHS Leeds CCG, we had three CCGs and I worked for one called NHS Leeds North CCG. We teamed up with NHS Leeds South and East CCG to set up a time limited Third Sector Grants programme that was run on our behalf by Leeds Community Foundation, which has evaluated really well. More importantly it demonstrated how vibrant the third sector (or is that the first sector) is in Leeds. Great learning for both us and the organisations involved but it was after all a time limited project.

Last year further funding was provided through the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership’s Harnessing the Power of Communities programme, primarily looking to help projects that tackle loneliness and social isolation. Based on the evaluation of our Third Sector Grants programme, nine Leeds-based projects received funding from the Partnership, again administered by Leeds Community Foundation. A full list of projects funded through the programme can be found on the Partnership’s website.

So you’ll notice two commonalities here, first we value the work of community and voluntary sector organisations and secondly the active involvement and support provided by Leeds Community Foundation. The Foundation also runs the Leeds Fund, giving businesses a chance to invest in community projects that change people’s lives.

So when they invited me on a bus tour involving local businesses at the end of June, I couldn’t possibly say no as the tour would see a number of the projects we’ve invested in.

The day started with breakfast with Tom Riordan Chief Executive for Leeds City Council and Kate Hainsworth, Chief Executive for Leeds Community Foundation before a formal introduction where the CCG was thanked for its ongoing support for the third sector We watched an excellent video of how social isolation has an impact on lives – emotional yes, but the tears were kept well in check – at that point.

And then the real emotion hit. It was only 10am. We often hear the terms refugees and asylum seekers and more often than not it comes with lots of negative coverage and attitudes. But did you know many people are fleeing persecution and wars and then have the added pressure of not knowing if they’ll be able to stay in this country?

We have a commitment to make Leeds a city of sanctuary and we’re really lucky to have organisations like Solace supporting people who are extremely vulnerable. I must confess, this is when tears of sadness were welling up. We listened as one woman described how she was forced to get married at the age of 13 to a much older man. She then went on to describe how she felt effectively dead until Solace intervened and bought her back to life – she described it as a cup of water. This was just one harrowing account we heard.

And I clearly wasn’t the only one that was moved. One local business had, by the end of the day, committed to provide further support to one of the projects.

We visited Holbeck Elderly Aid and had to remind ourselves we were guests in someone else’s space. That was made clear when someone’s phone rang, it took a while for them to find it and once they did they proceeded to have a very loud conversation – it was great, this is their daily life we were intruding on and Hilary Benn MP continued his talk as well. Hilary Benn MP was there in his capacity as a patron for Holbeck Elderly Aid.

At Holbeck Elderly Aid we found out more about the work they do on their befriending service to help older people who are feeling lonely or isolated. We heard about their range of activities (too many to list) including the hot meal delivery service, winter health awareness work and took part in armchair gymnastics – I’ll confess I didn’t do this! Fantastic work, no tears apart from their passionate Chief Officer

Next stop was New Wortley Community Centre, what an amazing place and a real hub for the community. They’ve secured lots of investment, not just through the funding I’ve mentioned earlier on, resulting in a new centre with new kitchen, a charity shop and health and wellbeing room.

So the day moved me, the day inspired me and the day made me proud. I was proud when the work of the CCG in involving the sector was acknowledged and even more proud of the breadth of work done by the third sector in Leeds. There was an advert a little while back where a car breakdown recovery firms described themselves as the fourth emergency service.  For many, especially the most vulnerable, community and voluntary organisations are their first emergency service. Now that’s food for thought for an experienced NHS employee like me.

Rob Goodyear

Head of Planning for the Leeds Plan within NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group and the Leeds Health Partnerships Team