The Healthy Living Centre Alliance
The Healthy Living Centre Alliance is an award-winning network of 29 community-led health improvement organisations based in areas of high health inequalities throughout the north of Ireland, both rural and urban. Healthy Living Centres are rooted in localities from Castlederg to Kilkeel and from Coleraine to South Armagh and are a key driver in connecting people up to services and linking the health sector and wider public sector up to working-class communities.
The HLC Alliance places greatly values our community development and assets-based approach to wellbeing and health. Our members thrive upon empowering people to take more control over their personal health, promoting an ethos of peer-led self-management for people with long-term conditions. We adopt a wrap-around approach to beneficiaries of our services, on the understanding that they may require benefit from more than one programme or initiative over a longer period of time. We value collaboration with other sectors and organisations to help them reach those considered most at risk and seldom heard.
We are advocating the Healthy Living Centre Alliance to politicians, commissioners and leaders of government departments in Northern Ireland. Our network of grass-roots health improvement projects is willing and eager to play a greater, bottom-up role in transforming the health status of our people, evolving from an over-reliance upon the health service to become more fully engaged, informed and confident in self-managing many of its health conditions and preoccupations.
Since 2014 the HLC Alliance has evolved to adopt a strategic, geographic and thematic approach to its work. Our members are actively involved with and in many instances lead:
- Programme for Government
- Integrated Care Partnerships and Strategy
- Local Commissioning Groups
- Rural Development
- Community Planning
- Neighbourhood Renewal Partnerships
People, Place and Potential
It is widely accepted that where you live and what you earn are two major factors in determining health inequalities. ‘Power, money and resources…..’ says Michael Marmot. Years of austerity have caused more poverty, hardship and inequality, often widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Put plainly, if you live in a high-income area you are less likely to suffer from illness and you will probably live beyond the average age for a man or woman. However, if you live in one of the top 20% most deprived wards in the north you are more likely to become ill more often and more likely to die younger than the average man or woman.
At the most local level, we value a bottom-up partnership approach engaging local people and organisations, as local assets, to work collectively to address health inequalities and to improve the health of their neighbourhood, town or village. Our members are located across each of the five Trust/LCG areas and are organised along the same geographic lines. HLCs in each sub-regional area have developed positive working relationships with Trusts, local government, schools and other community development organisations and partnerships.
It has become abundantly clear that, with 48% of the public purse, the health service cannot cope with the increasing demands and expectations of the population. The centre cannot hold. The Alliance believes that we have much more untapped potential in terms of:
- further collaboration with integrated care approaches to population health
- recognising that the new Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) approaches to primary care could become the basis of a new and mature compact with the community sector, bringing better outcomes for patients
- demedicalising and socialising long-term conditions to improve the mental health and social inclusion of patients
Our Core Themes
We have established a number of thematic working groups for members and other external partners aimed at assisting them to adopt a community development approach to preventing long-term conditions. These are social prescribing, chronic pain support, mental health, physical activity, food health and smoking. We have established the Strengthening Commonalities Learning and Development programme to provide a quality assured approach to health programming, with training often provided by GPs, pharmacists and mental health specialists.
We believe that many aspects of health and social care have become over medicalised and that the community sector can and does play a key role in sustaining community-based peer support and social inclusion programmes with and for people at risk or living with chronic conditions.
- GPs tell us that around 30% of their patients present with complaints and conditions that require social support and a systematic reconnection to community life. This is called social prescribing. The Alliance leads on Spring Social Prescribing - the only social prescribing project with a regional spread – and have presented on the associated benefits to conferences and symposiums the length and breadth of Ireland and Britain. We have been instrumental in establishing the first social prescribing Project Echo distance learning programme for social prescribers. We Co-chair the Social Prescribing Network Ireland.
- Over 450,000 people live with chronic pain in NI. Many are dependent on pain-relieving medication which is often ineffective and sometimes counter-productive. We partner with HSCB and PHA on providing pain support programmes in over 20 communities, both rural and urban, which have a retention rate of over 90% and have improved the mental health status among participants.
- We have successfully hosted regional mobilisations on No Smoking Day and World Mental Health Day targeting vulnerable and hard to reach sections of our communities. The HLC Alliance is a ready-made network capable of conducting widespread consultations, focus groups, training and health research.
- As a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, we have successfully reconfigured much of our in-house training, services, programmes and strategic connections so as to ensure better outcomes for people, families and communities in these most challenging times.
Our Board of Directors