We started by walking around the local community with a social historian and saw local landmarks like the very modern Healthy Living Centre with its community inspired art work and the world’s first digital Totem Pole! It gave me the chance to get a real understanding of the wider context of the work of the project and the community itself. It was great to see the way that the community, through art and creativity, were brought to life in the Health Living Centre. Walking through the area was an important reminder of some of the challenges that are faced by communities living in urban environments dissected with roads and planned for people rather than with people.
Professor James Mitchell, who was with us in Wester Hailes, and was a member of the Christie Commission has written thoughtfully about the visit. His comments are insightful so please take the time to read them.
Like James, I was struck by the importance of relationships, both between professionals and with their community. A starting point has been to bring local people together in open space to find out what they want for their children- learning to ride a bike, learning to swim, being safe in their local community.
While formally known as the “Living Well Wester Hailes project” what came home to me was the humanity and humility of the people working within their community. People spoke passionately about the need for the community and people delivering services to work together to find their own solutions. These change makers are doctors, social workers, teachers, community leaders and leaders from the third sector. They are working together, spending time together, sharing ideas and innovations. They kept saying this is not rocket science. That this is not about funding – or about more resources. It’s about working together to get better outcomes for the community. And it is about doing so with the resources, skills and talents we already have.
My own thought is perhaps we need to remember what rocket science is. Rocket science is collective human endeavour in common cause. Rocket science is people coming together with hope and belief that they can make change happen. Rocket science is giving people the freedom to innovate and try stuff out. Rocket science can produce miraculous things and inspire us to do our best and love our jobs. Rocket science takes time and dedication.
Those leaders reminded me that it is human interaction and expertise along with a deep commitment to the community they are working with and serving that is producing change and improving lives. So perhaps we were in the company of rocket scientists after all.
It was also very clear that people were using tried and tested ideas, there was a fantastic understanding and sharing of information and this was leading to innovation around early and effective interventions.
Some examples that came into the conversation were rethinking parents night to enable longer and more detailed time with parents at a time convenient to them. This has dramatically improved parental engagement. Working together to improve the response to domestic violence with more focus on ways to change the behaviour of perpetrators. Social prescribing by linking GPs with the third sector to allow people to do new things. It is hard to see how this would be possible without a real sense of shared purpose and deep relationships of trust and honesty. It was obvious that the opportunities and optimism were infectious with others in the wider community keen to learn and join in the opportunities.
A great example of using assets was a decision to bring local secondary school pupils into local services for work experience. Treating them as members of staff, getting them to promote health improvement. Giving them confidence that they can go into work. For a community that thought it had no work experience to offer a wealth of opportunity has now been found.
The people were met today are the embodiment of Christie in action with a very real focus on prevention, early intervention and using community based assets to address the issues that have been identified by the community. Relationships are vital to the success of the project and absolutely key to bringing about change. Genuine local engagement and consultation, formal and informal, is how to begin community capacity building and deploying resources. Local managers with sufficient fiscal autonomy, time, freedom and the resources to do what needs to be done to allow them to take risks and work in a less constrained manner. Central services aligned to support local delivery and not the other way around.
Gillian Russell, Director Safer Communities, Scottish Government
The Living Well Wester Hailes Project began in the early summer of 2014 at the request of the Chief Executive of the City of Edinburgh Council. Wester Hailes is in the South West neighbourhood of Edinburgh and is an area of multi-deprivation. However, despite the deprivation statistics there had been some significant successes in the preceding 3 years that appeared to defy the experience in similar areas of multi-deprivation in Edinburgh. The Wester Hailes Education Centre had seen significant improvement with the school moving from 22nd out of 23 secondary schools in the city to 12th; a reduction in youth crime and disorder of over 80% and a drop in the number of young people placed in secure care from an average of 3 at any one time to only 2 instances, both for just a six week period. This reduced the forecast spend of £3.3m over 4 years to just £63,000 over the same period – a massive saving of £3.2m over 4 years.