Transformation Partners in Health and Care > News > Introducing Community Chests – a model for a thriving voluntary and community sector to support social prescribing in London

Introducing Community Chests – a model for a thriving voluntary and community sector to support social prescribing in London

Here at Healthy London Partnership, we’re on a mission to ensure London’s social prescribing system is not only sustainable but thriving.  But we, and the partners we work with to make this happen, are increasingly aware of just how challenging this is, especially right now.

Public services are overwhelmed, the voluntary sector is starved of vital funding and the health and care system is still recovering from a global pandemic. The cost-of-living crisis is being acutely felt across London, particularly so in deprived communities.  People most in need of help are struggling to get basic needs met. Messages about the lack of investment in voluntary and community-based support, meaning vital services are shut down, are continually reverberating, and a huge concern for those caring for the most vulnerable.

We know there is a pressing need to find effective and efficient ways to target funding to the most deprived communities. This would help prevent further deterioration and ultimately a greater burden on the health service. Social Prescribing has been mooted as the answer to this, but what if there are no or limited services in the community that people can be referred to?

Working with a team of social impact consultants, we began looking for examples of what health and care systems were doing to help bridge the gap.  We explored where health partners were meaningfully investing in community organisations to prototype and develop an approach around a Community Chest for social prescribing.

A community chest is a shared investment fund that joins up money from the NHS, local authorities, and other sources, such as philanthropy and local business. This creates an easy to access, local pot of funding for the voluntary and community sector.

However, it’s more than just a pot of money. Community Chests are rooted in a collaborative, needs-led approach to funding that taps into the strengths and insights of a wide range of partners from across their local patch.

Clinicians, commissioners, link workers, community workers, volunteers and residents are around the same table working together to decide where the need in a community is greatest and who is best placed to meet that need locally. This ensures that social prescribing pathways are made accessible and relevant to the population groups that need them most. It also means that community groups involved in this provision can get the vital support they need to deliver their activities.

The result? More integrated partnership working in local places, more sustainable social prescribing pathways and better health outcomes for those most impacted by health inequalities.

We shared our findings in a best practice scana paper making the case for community chests and a how to guide proposing what conditions need to be in place, and what kind of leadership is required to give it a go and make Community Chests happen in London.

Off the back of this work, we then supported the North East London Integrated Care System (NEL ICS) to build on the research and adopt Community Chests as a model for co-designing and commissioning voluntary and community services locally, addressing the gaps.

Funding for this initiative was secured from NHS England’s Health Inequalities Fund – with match funding coming from local authorities – and work is now underway setting up Community Chests for Social Prescribing in all seven place-based partnerships across North East London.

It has been fabulous to see the enthusiasm from social prescribing services, local authorities and voluntary and community sector groups as they come together to set priorities based on local need. These in turn are informing how the application, grant distribution, monitoring and evaluation processes for the Community Chest funds are being designed.

Different approaches are being tried in different boroughs. For example, Barking and Dagenham is trialling a consortium approach which will see grant-making decisions devolved to local voluntary, community-based and charitable organisations thinking collectively about where the most impact can be made.

Healthy London Partnership salutes the leadership NEL ICS have shown in pioneering  Community Chests in their area and will continue to partner with their Personalised Care team to shape the toolkits and workshops that will support other areas to introduce Community Chests. We look forward to sharing the results of this work.

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