Helpforce, NHS and local council join forces to help Covid-hit Brent communities

28th October 2021

Brent project cover

Helpforce, Brent Council, and Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) announce the initial success of a collaboration project with residents from Church End and Alperton in Brent to explore alternative ways to create a ‘mesh’ of support that positively contributes to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of the local community.

Brent was one of the hardest hit communities in the country during the first wave of the pandemic, with 36 members of the community losing their lives. This reflected a borough that was already suffering from high levels of deprivation and health inequality prior to the pandemic. Between summer 2020 to October 2021, Helpforce, Brent Council and CNWL conducted research with the residents of these two communities to establish how they could improve their emotional wellbeing and mental health and encourage greater support from local volunteers and the local community sector.

The survey revealed a clear need to reconnect residents to local services with support organisations, with 50% of Church End and 58% of Alperton residents revealing they were not aware of where to access support if someone they knew was facing a mental health crisis. Residents were also unaware of how or where to access support if someone they knew was experiencing loneliness or isolation and 50% of Church End and 71% of Alperton residents were not aware of local organisations that existed on their doorstep.

In addition, the data also revealed that residents felt, overall, that services were being “done to” them or “done for” them and all too rarely “done with” them or “done by” them, further highlighting the lack of knowledge and need for a supporting network within the community to ensure that residents are not

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In order to counteract this view and with a vision to co-design more independent, empowered communities that aim to support each other, the project established a collaboration model. This is a collective aspiration to deliver what local people need, to ensure that traditionally excluded communities are heard and effectively supported. Most importantly, with the support of local health champion volunteers, the project successfully created “Hyper-local community forums”, where residents are empowered to share their thoughts about healthcare plans and how they want the plans to be shaped to build a stronger and more resilient community. By increasing the participation of residents and developing local volunteering capacity to support one another, the long-term vision is communities will be better able to support the needs of individuals and reduce the numbers needing already overstretched statutory services.

Mark Lever, Helpforce CEO, said:

“Our health and social care system face huge challenges – including recovering from the pandemic, a hugely stretched workforce and a possible mental health epidemic. Which is why we must look at innovative ways to co-develop the future of this system with the needs of local people at its core.

“With the work we have conducted with these communities, we hope to establish a mesh of support, build back community networks and support people to look out for one another and take some of the burden off statutory services.

“Our experience is that when volunteers are built into the design of services, they can be transformative: helping people to be more active and healthier, providing a friendly face or voice, and combating social isolation, something that was clearly missing based on our discussions with the residents of Church End and Aplperton.

“Working with Brent residents and our partners, Brent Council and CNWL, in this important project has been an absolute pleasure and I was particularly pleased to hear from residents through the hyper-local forums that they feel more hopeful about the future, and that they are more confident in leading more initiatives within their communities, and are stepping forward to volunteer. We have been further encouraged by commitments from residents to work more closely with local providers, Brent Council and CNWL, towards becoming fully self-running and sustainable. For us, this is a huge success as it shows that communities can be empowered to take control of their wellbeing.”

Thandie Lawrence, Health Champion Volunteer, shared:

“As a resident of Church End, I was determined to get involved in my community. This project provided a great opportunity to achieve this and act as a steppingstone to understanding how to support my community in staying safe from Covid-19 and later, in supporting the mental wellbeing of residents.

“Volunteering encouraged and equipped me to apply for a role as a Health and Wellbeing Community Connector with the NHS, where I’m now involved in consulting with local communities, finding out what they want from public services and sign posting them to what is available to them. It has been rewarding so far to be part of projects such NHS-CNWL health inequalities team and Brent hyper local forums, whose goal is to reduce health inequalities, tackle mental health and emotional wellbeing at a local level.”

This work will now be taken forward by Brent Health Matters. Jenny Lanyero, team Manager of Brent Health Matters, said:

“The pandemic was of course distressing everywhere, but Church End and Alperton show just how devastating it can be when health services and communities are not connected. Trusting NHS health services to understand you, be there for you and care for your needs to be felt by all, however it was clear that some communities were isolated in plain sight.

“The work evaluated in this report shows engaging with communities on a genuinely local level to build trust has a very positive result. Thank you first and foremost to the communities of Church End and Alperton, local faith leaders and organisations for your support. To the Community Connectors, thank you for bringing your whole selves to work, for your dedication in helping us become a more open, accommodating and understanding organisation. Finally, thank you to Brent Council and Helpforce for your collaboration. We all came together to show Brent’s health really does matter and public services can be there for all residents.”

The full report of this project is now available online, which outlines details of how the project was set up, residents’ feedback, and the outcomes.


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