Pennine Lancashire has over 250 elected members. During the discovery phase for the trailblazer programme we began to engage with a range of councillors across the footprint. We discovered that whilst many elected members were interested in health and wellbeing, the majority felt as though they were ill-prepared to be able to influence the agenda, specifically around healthy weight within their ward and/or portfolio, and so ‘system leadership’ was identified as a key lever for the programme.
Engagement with elected members wasn’t completely new. In 2017, Blackburn with Darwen adopted the Healthy Weight Declaration. This involved getting Executive Member Board sign-off to promote healthy weight in all policies and across all departments within the council. This process involved engagement with a range of elected members and was a useful vehicle to get healthy weight on agendas. In November 2019, Pendle Council followed suit supported by the Healthier Place Healthier Future programme and we are working with the remaining districts to support them to adopt over the course of the coming year.
Whilst the healthy weight declaration is a useful way to increase elected member awareness and understanding of the complexities of unhealthy weight and obesogenic environments, it was felt by elected members that there was a lack of knowledge exchange, supported learning, and localised context in terms of the healthy weight agenda.
As such we embarked on a series of engagement and co-development forums. These forums have been used to find out how much our elected members understand about the barriers to healthy weight; to identify the opportunities to use their unique positions within communities to raise the profile of this agenda; to find out how best they learn – how they would like to learn, what fits best with their role, their time commitments and their individual learning preferences.
We have now held seven elected member forums, five of which have been virtual. We have a core group of councillors who attend on a regular basis and have had attendance from across all six districts.
What we discovered early on in the process was that there is ‘no one size fits all’ approach to elected member learning and development. We have some elected members who are very knowledgeable about health and wellbeing/ healthy weight, whilst others have little knowledge, confidence and understanding on the subject. We have some elected members who are very technology savvy, but others who rely on face-to-face contact and may not even own a mobile phone. We have some elected members who enjoy attending face-to-face training, whilst others like to study in their own time and at their own pace. We have a range of different learning needs we have to consider, including visual impairment and hearing loss.
Through engagement, consultation and co-design we have developed a number of tools for elected members, these include:
- District specific health and wellbeing infographics to provide a snapshot of the health and wellbeing needs of the population. These will be supported by an assets and opportunities infographic on the reverse to highlight the positives.
- A health and wellbeing learning module designed to give an introduction to health and wellbeing including the wider determinants of health and what elected members can do to ensure there is a health in all policies approach within their councils.
- A healthy weight module which looks at unhealthy weight through the life stages: how our environment, social situation and life events impacts on our weight, and what we can all do to make our environments more conducive to healthy weight.
- Case studies using local examples of individuals and families in the area to ensure the examples are relatable for members.
- An online elected member portal, which will be a one stop shop for health and wellbeing resources and a place for members to network, ask questions and support each other.
- A peer-to-peer support programme, to encourage engaged members to support others to engage with the healthy weight agenda.
Who is this benefitting and how?
This solution has a range of beneficiaries:
- Members are being supported as part of their professional development, considering that Democratic Services and councils as a whole have less capacity to support member development.
- The community is benefiting as it will have more knowledgeable members able to understand, support and signpost their communities into appropriate support.
- Local authorities will benefit. Having elected members with an understanding of the impact of the wider determinants on health and wellbeing will help with decision and policy making in all areas of the council.
- Understanding that health is everybody’s business and embedding this in all policies will encourage healthier communities.
How will the approach be sustained?
With many of the resources developed or in the process of being developed, the next phase will involve engaging and empowering more elected members to encourage participation in the forum, the modules, peer-to-peer support and engaging with colleagues and residents on the healthy weight agenda. Plans to take the engagement forward will be done in consultation with the elected members involved with the Forum and wider stakeholders.
We have already seen more elected members keen to learn about health and wellbeing and to consider their role and how they can contribute. We expect that with the launch of the new resources this will increase, and we will have more confident and empowered elected members across the footprint.
Our ambition is that health is always considered in decision making, and we feel that the progress we are making towards this is very positive.
- Through the elected member forum and other meetings, we have met virtually with a number of elected members during the past three months. This has been important learning and provides potential for future meetings, especially those held during the evening when elected members may wish to dial in to a meeting rather than travel (sometimes) quite a distance.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption to local elections. For example, Pendle Borough Council was due to hold all-out elections this year which have been postponed, meaning that a significant number of elected members who were ready to stand down are still in post. Anecdotal feedback suggests that those members do not want to engage in any new activity during their last year in the role.
- There has been important learning on how elected members like to learn. Also, due to the diversity amongst elected members, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Elected members want to be involved; they want to be able to help to improve the health and wellbeing of their communities; and engagement with elected members is trailblazing. There are challenges around accessing/use of technology and disabilities.
- COVID-19 has highlighted to many of our elected members the importance of a heathy diet and physical activity, but also the importance of social interaction on mental health.
Beth Wolfenden, Public Health Development Manager at Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council