Calum reflects on the Community Partnership Conference 2023 in Inverness, which was built on trusting relationships and partnership working.

In early November, The ALLIANCE attended the Community Partnership Conference in Inverness, which brought together members of the local third sector, healthcare professionals, and council leaders to encourage collaborative working, share ideas and concerns, and build strong and trusting relationships. As an event centred around partnership working and fostering authentic connections across sectors, the themes of integration were consistently championed throughout.

The conference, which was set up in partnership by Connecting Carers, the Highland Hospice and Highland TSI, played host to a wide range of speakers from across the sectors, including academics, council leaders, and third sector directors, with each presentation being followed by an opportunity for delegates to identify barriers, challenges and next steps for community partnership. In line with this, the seating arrangements for the day were deliberately designed to encourage cross-sectoral collaboration, with tables consisting of delegates from a range of diverse organisations to truly harness integrated working. 

During the first section, Professor Tony Chapman, Director of Research in Policy and Practice at the University of Durham, delivered a speech on partnership trends in the third sector entitled “why is it difficult for small community groups to partner up?”, which highlighted that partnership working increases as organisations make more money, and that partnership must be worth it for all parties involved for it to succeed. 

In section two, Shona Sinclair of SKS Scotland spoke about community partnership evaluations, highlighting that NHS social workers have found that people are more likely to engage in partnership if it is local, before Jo Ford, Chief Officer of Skye and Lochalsh CVO, presented examples from a case study in successful partnership working. Ian Thomson, Head of Service at Quality Assurance NHS Highland, then shared a diagram of what care systems could look like in small communities, such as those situated in the Highlands.

For section three, David Allen, Deputy Director at the Scottish Community Development Centre, spoke about the need for services to be provided more locally to make them more valuable and reciprocal for both providers and individuals, before Jennifer Baughan, Whole Family Wellbeing Programme Manager at the Highland Council, spoke about how to plan for partnership by emphasising partnership working across sectors and highlighting person centred programmes, the utilisation of GIRFEC, and the harnessing of UNCRC as vital to their work.

As a result, integration was a reoccurring theme woven throughout the conference, with delegates asked to work collaboratively in groups to reflect on the information provided following each section. Throughout the discussions, there was a recognition that those from across the health and care sector attempt to achieve the same shared goals through different means, with it being desirable to create strong relationships across sectors and increase collaborative working to achieve common objectives more efficiently. These thoughts were then reflected back to the room by a panel of stakeholders, which included the ALLIANCE, NHS Highland, the Highland Council, the Scottish Parliament, and Grant funders.

The beauty of the third sector is that it is largely without arbitrary or bureaucratic restraints, meaning the themes of integration are allowed to thrive more proactively at a local level. In line with this, the Community Partnership Conference 2023 provided a great platform for the third sector to shine, with it highlighting the sector as leading the way on integrating communities more effectively by fostering authentic relationships and encouraging people to work across sectors to collaborate on shared goals, champion lived experience, and harness community involvement for the benefit of community health and wellbeing.

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