Our health matters - how simple steps are making a big difference

Published: 16 October 2023

Ground-breaking pilot schemes are making a difference to the health and wellbeing of vulnerable groups in Hertsmere, Epping Forest and Harlow.

Our Health Matters launched a year ago with the goal of working with communities to spot ill health earlier, and is backed by local NHS organisations, county and district councils, and community groups. 

The £100,000 scheme is operating six pilot projects in Hertsmere, Epping Forest and Harlow. The residents in the pilot neighbourhoods face some of the biggest barriers to living healthy lives, and Our Health Matters has already started to make a difference to this. 

Activities in the pilot schemes include: walking and singing groups to help people get exercise and make friends; cancer and blood pressure awareness events and mental health support. All of these activities are developed and delivered locally. There has also been work with the gypsy and traveller communities to offer mental health and bereavement support, and working with local GPs to reduce digital exclusion. 

The pilots are nationally funded, following a successful bid by Hertfordshire and west Essex Integrated Care System, (ICS). Two local groups have developed and are delivering the pilot schemes. Communities 1st is delivering our Health Matters in the Cowley Hill and Brook Meadow wards in Hertsmere, and Rainbow Services is working in the Loughton Alderton & Waltham Abbey Paternoster wards in Epping Forest, and the Toddbrook and Staple Tye Wards in Harlow.

Each pilot has been created following conversations with the local communities, and as a result each has a different focus, although there are elements in common. 

Volunteers called ‘Community Connectors’ are working alongside families, individuals and community groups to really understand the issues that affect their health. Residents and Community Connectors work together to ensure that people living with serious health conditions including severe mental illness, high blood pressure and respiratory diseases get the expert help they need, and to improve the detection of cancer. A total of 25 community connectors have been recruited across the pilots.

As well as helping people to get the healthcare they need, when they need it, Community Connectors work with local people to develop schemes in their area that help people to stay well.

Dr Jane Halpin, CEO of Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care Board, said: “it is wonderful to see what can be done when we work with local communities to address long-term health conditions. We know that many things that affect people’s health are beyond the control of the NHS. Working with local communities and partners means that we can find effective ways to address these and help people stay well. There is no quick fix, but the lessons we learn here can be applied in other places. By including the community connectors we and our partners are creating long-term ways for people to get information about health issues and take action.”

Stephen Craker, CEO of Communities 1st commented, "Through direct engagement with over 500 individuals, we've gained a clear understanding of their health challenges. Our collaboration with the local GP network has been pivotal. Additionally, our strategic engagement with HWEICS has not only allowed us to be part of the national Core20PLUS5 initiative but has also given us a platform to highlight and address the issues our community faces when accessing vital health and care services. The 'Our Health Matters' initiative, marked by collaborations, community events, and consistent feedback loops, underlines the power of community-driven solutions in achieving meaningful health outcomes.  Despite uncertain funding, we're committed to continuing this programme, with upcoming events on blood pressure, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and dementia."

Sharon Summerfield, CEO of Rainbow Services, said: “We are very proud to be delivering Our Health Matters. It is a very successful project, which is making a real difference to people’s lives by tackling some of the most deep rooted health inequalities in our area.”  

The pilot schemes run until spring of next year, and the backers hope that this way of working can become a standard part of healthcare across the whole of Hertfordshire and west Essex.