Expert Opinion

Enabling partnerships for change

In this blog post Professor Ellis and John Walsh outline some elements of partnerships established between York Street Practice and Leeds Beckett University, and reflect of how partnership working has happened and the dynamics that stimulate its work and life.

We live in a simultaneously challenging and encouraging time. It is challenging as economic austerity impacts on public services and we are faced with growing social and health problems which cannot be simply diagnosed or easily solved. These problems have multiple causes and complex inter-relationships. It is encouraging as we see new energy, ideas, movements and initiatives emerging as innovative ways forward. In this era of constant challenge and change we must keep positively focused on seeing new possibilities and co-creating new futures. Fundamental to making this happen is the notion of effective partnerships. hence our reference to 'co-creation' of new futures. How can we bring together existing expertise and services in effective, authentic and supportive partnerships to make the difference?

Leeds Beckett is a modern, professional regional University with a population of over 3,000 staff, 32,000 students and with a firm commitment to be a catalyst for social and economic progress in and for the Region as well as making its contribution and impact nationally and internationally. The University has been estimated to contribute £477m to the economy every year. The Faculty of Health and Social Sciences is one of the four university faculties and plays a key role in establishing and enabling partnership working.

Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust is a family of 65 community health services. This includes services such as community dental, prison healthcare, district nursing and health visiting. Within the Trust, York Street Health Practice is the health team for people who are homeless and in the asylum system.

The partnership between our two organisations has grown over the past two years. It embodies a number of different facets, themes and partnership links with other organisations which include the following examples;

  • A partnership between York Street and academics from Social Work, Social Care and Youth and Community Studies to create best theory and practice in working with the marginalised, vulnerable and bringing street work perspectives. This is part of a wider international partnership with the Universities of Amsterdam, Prague and Barcelona and involving Leeds Adult Social Care Services and so has an integrated care approach to the teaching and development of the work. Last year colleagues from Leeds Beckett, Leeds Adult Social Care and York Street attended a conference in Prague with students and colleagues from these Universities and offered teaching and joint collaboration on academic perspectives. This partnership has resulted in funding for research into York Street Practice and its model of care and how Adult Social Care works in addressing homelessness from a street perspective in Leeds.
  • Funding has been acquired to hold an International Conference in Leeds on new themes in inclusion. This conference will bring together managers, academics, organisational development specialists, practitioners and service users to look at how we create best culture for staff and best care for patients and carers. The conference will highlight international, national and local ideas and practice.
  • The development of a new undergraduate course at Leeds Beckett on youth, communities and society has York Street as key advisory partner. York Street is presently talking to key NHS figures and organisations about ensuring this course achieves recognition for best innovative practice and transformational change.
  • York Street is working with Alan White Leeds Beckett Professor in Mens Health looking at how we reach out to some of the most vulnerable people in the city. This partnership work was celebrated during Men's Health week last year in partnership with St George's Crypt This brought wellbeing practice and health intervention to homeless men. It offered a move away from traditional model of health consultations to one of health conversations over food and dialogue. Health workers from Leeds Community Healthcare and other health services took part in this holistic and co-delivered event.
  • York Street is presently discussing some mental health and wellbeing research work with Professor White. York Street is also in discussions with Leeds Beckett Professors Michelle Briggs - Professor of Nursing and Jane South - Professor of Healthy Communities to develop ideas and map out joint-working for the future
  • Paul Mackreth a Senior Lecturer in Community Nursing at Leeds Beckett is working with York Street and York Street will be offering teaching on leadership this year for student district nurses.
  • The tripartite partnership of Leeds Beckett, York Street and St Georges Crypt has helped inform the work of CommUNity, a Leeds Beckett community campus partnership. This is an initiative that builds sustainable partnerships between voluntary/community organisations and Leeds Beckett University with an emphasis on projects focused on health and wellbeing. The overarching goal is to find new, more effective ways to improve health and reduce health inequalities in communities. Combining the resources and knowledge of community organisations with those of the University creates benefits for both partners: it improves knowledge exchange and gives staff from both sectors access to different sources of expertise, widens participation and opens up opportunities for students and research.

In reflecting how and why this work happens, a number of key elements come through, three of them described here:

To start with there is a shared purpose and vision. The key people involved have moved beyond 'silo' thinking and working to what Kate Cowie the social change specialist would term a world centric view. This view is panoramic. This vision is one that respects different disciplines and seeks to create a meeting point for them to develop and learn together. It is an explicit recognition that we work better together and can only deeply learn from and each other in listening dialogue. It looks outward and is open to the new. This provides the framework and field for the work and ideas to appear. The focus has always been on something bigger than ourselves. It has been what can support best health and care interventions with homeless and vulnerable people.

The second key to this successful partnership is that it is capable of creating positive and creative space. We may all have attended meetings where there is no freshness or innovation or inspiration. The joint meetings between Leeds Beckett and York Street have been places of trust, openness and clarity. They have been where it is possible to test and sift ideas and options. We would venture that one key ingredient here has been that the participants haven't seen partnerships as what we can get but more about what we can all contribute to the common good.

A third key aspect of this fruitful partnership has been the human element. Support, kindness, humour and respect have marked the work and tell us that partnerships are fundamentally not just about what we do but who we are. They offer the possibility to bring our best gifts to the present.

As this new year of 2015 starts we will continue on this road of trying to create a Health and Education partnership that makes the difference in our city and beyond. This blog is a sign and witness to that commitment. We believe we are only at the start of a journey that offers potent and engaging models of how we can all work and learn together. This offers something for all of us. It also offers a future.

This blog post is co-authored (partnership working in action!) by Professor Ieuan Ellis, Dean and Pro-Vice Chancellor at Leeds Beckett University and John Walsh, Practice Manager at York Street Health practice, part of the Leeds Community NHS Trust.

Please note that this blog post also appears at the yestolifeblog

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