Partnership working was placed at the heart of the COVID-19 response in order to face the challenges of the pandemic.

Prior to COVID-19, the Renfrewshire HSCP had already begun to develop closer cross-sector working relationships. This was supported by the Head of Strategic Planning & Health Improvement who met regularly with voluntary sector members of the Strategic Planning Group (SPG), to share information and to discuss issues and ideas. Additionally a Health Networking Breakfast featuring speakers and speed networking, organised by Engage Renfrewshire, took place quarterly. The networking event was attended by organisations delivering health and social care based services locally, from voluntary, public and even private sectors, and was proving to be effective in connecting people and services, and developing key relationships.

Once lockdown began in March, the pace of work to adapt and respond to the crisis in Renfrewshire increased significantly. Meetings moved to digital channels, but these critical conversations still took place and if anything, were prioritised.

As part of the SPG work, 6 priority areas which had been identified pre-COVID-19, were agreed to be of continued importance, and sub-groups made up of voluntary and public sector colleagues were formed in order to progress collaborative responses to the priorities. Furthermore, a small but significant amount of non-recurring funding was identified and opportunities for collaborative projects began to be developed within each of the 6 sub-groups. The funding presented an opportunity to “test” responses to addressing the health and social care priorities, with a view to becoming self sustaining and up scaled if they work well. 11 projects were funded and the work is now commencing.

Colleagues working in health and social care, across all sectors, are of course now facing complex and enduring challenges. For the voluntary sector specifically, although this is not dissimilar to our public sector colleagues, capacity and funding are major concerns.  We anticipate demand exceeding supply, with health and wellbeing underpinning many strands of societal issues, for example employment, addiction, and educational attainment.

In many ways, the crisis has brought the SPG members closer than ever; the relationships formed and developed during 2020 are strong. There’s a cross-sector equality that we were certainly already working towards, but that now feels very tangible. A recognition perhaps, that only in working together can we possibly tackle the aftermath of COVID-19, because we need one another.

We’ve also achieved an honest trust, because the conversations we had throughout the crisis were open and transparent. We’re all more aware of the challenges that each other faces, and there’s acknowledgement that any success will be a shared success.  Relationships are key to this level playing field; we’ve all shared an experience and we all did our best to support one another coming through it.

As we begin to move towards the recovery stages of the crisis it will be more crucial than ever that we continue to work collaboratively. Once resources begin to stretch even thinner, and we’re all expected to do more with less, we will have to come together in order to rethink, redesign and rebuild.

Collaborative working is never easy, or straightforward, and any support that strengthens either voluntary or cross-sector collaborative working will be invaluable. We absolutely must continue to listen, learn, contribute and work towards a shared vision. This is incredibly difficult when the demands of everyday service delivery become overwhelming, but that focus on, and investment in, the longer term and the bigger picture, will help sustain not only our own organisations, but those around us too.

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