Our local VCS – Active partners in Collaborative Newcastle

In this month’s blog Lisa Goodwin, CEO at Connected Voice, and Brendan Hill, Executive Chair of Blue Stone Collaborative, explain the critical role of the voluntary and community sector (VCS) in Collaborative Newcastle’s work to tackle health inequalities and improve health, wealth and wellbeing in the City…

From preventative to rehabilitative, from informal support to a funded service, our voluntary and community sector (VCS) supports thousands of local people across all ages, often when they are at their most vulnerable.

The VCS has always played a pivotal role in health and wellbeing. Whether it is organising social activities to combat loneliness, giving young people opportunities to broaden their horizons and experiences, or providing commissioned mental health services, our sector provides a patchwork of interventions and support.

It is safe to say that this support to individuals and communities contributes hugely to health and care, and its absence would lead to significant additional pressures and cost to the NHS and social care services.

There are countless examples of how the work of local charities and community groups have improved people’s lives, and through the priorities of Collaborative Newcastle, we are encouraged to see that these interventions are now viewed on an equal footing with the health and social care services provided by our statutory partners. The VCS is a lot more than volunteering.

Connected Voice and Blue Stone Collaborative jointly represent the VCS within Collaborative Newcastle and both organisations have their roots in a desire to improve health and wellbeing.

Connected Voice began its journey as a charity in 1929 as Tyneside Council of Social Services – established in response to research which highlighted the appalling health and living conditions of many people across Tyneside.

Blue Stone, (named after the blue stone that in the 17thcentury sat in middle of the bridge across the Tyne marking the boundary between the northern and the southern sides of the river) was born more recently in 2013 to help VCS health and social care organisations to work together and deliver services at scale via significant charity funding bids, NHS or council commissions, and now has a focus on involving those organisations in health and social care transformation and integration.

“Blue Stone aims to provide the spark for collaboration to happen, helping organisations work together better.”
Brendan Hill, Executive Chair

“Between us, we have an in-depth knowledge of the local voluntary and community sector in the City. The intelligence which we get from the hundreds of touch points we have with organisations each week puts us in a good position to be able to articulate both their impact and their needs.”
Lisa Goodwin, CEO Connected Voice

We do this together because we know that representing a sector as diverse as ours is not a simple job. It includes very large organisations providing significant health and social care commissioned services right through to the very small, many of which will be run either by a part time staff team or entirely by volunteers; we can do it better by combining the breadth of knowledge and local intelligence that Connected Voice brings, with the in-depth focus on involvement in the health and care integration agenda that Blue Stone leads on.

As we emerge from the global pandemic, respect for, and understanding the value of the VCS has never been greater. We have seen a huge upsurge in volunteering and a reconnection with local services and facilities across Newcastle as people had to stay at home. The priorities for Collaborative Newcastle this year reflect these societal changes. A focus on local neighbourhoods, on empowering and understanding local communities, and on supporting them to find their own solutions runs throughout the Collaborative Newcastle plans that have been developed for children and families, mental health transformation, and our Covid response.

Our rich and diverse VCS family, meaningfully engaged so as to better coordinate and maximize our impact, can be a significant asset. Blue Stone and Connected Voice will work together to represent VCS interests and ensure we can play an increasing part in the health and wellbeing of Newcastle during the Covid recovery phase and beyond.

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