Inner South Community Committee Engagement in Action

As part of its ongoing community engagement, the Inner South Community Committee hosted their latest quarterly public meeting on the evening of Wednesday 9 December 2015.

City & Hunslet ward were the hosts, and light refreshments were served in the grand entrance of the Civic Hall. With the German Christmas market in full swing in Millennium Square, the evening had a festive backdrop. Also, for the first time a creche facility had been laid on thanks to Health for All.

The Inner South Community Committee comprises of the three council wards in south Leeds: Belle Isle & Middleton, City & Hunslet, and Beeston & Holbeck. This was their busiest such meeting yet, packed out with dozens of different representatives, volunteers, and regular members of the public gathering with the ward councillors, local police and others – first for a workshop on a key local issues, then a formal meeting for the councillors to present to the public their community expenditure for that quarter, and further discuss pressing local issues.

The evening’s workshop theme was ‘Health & Well-being: Helping Children and Families have the Best Start’. Health Improvement Manager for Children and Families, Janice Burberry presented a new policy being implemented called the Best Start Plan; ‘A broad preventative program from conception to age 2 years for every baby’.  The programme is based on early identification and targeted support for vulnerable families early in the child’s life.

Janice explained how providing healthy nutrition early on for a child can reduce physical health conditions later in life. We also watched a short animated film on how positive brain development formed by a nurturing environment can help equip a child for life, whilst neglect can have a negative impact on a child’s development (click here to watch the 4 minute film).

We learnt some key messages for how parents can help shape babies brains now by using day to day experiences as part of their healthy development, including: Talking and Play, Cuddle and Respond, and Relax and Reach Out

The committee had also invited a group of young dads from the Health for All Young Dads Project, who each briefly told some of their stories. One by one they articulated how – for them – being more involved with their children had helped them develop stronger bonds with them. One of them said:

“I had no idea of the support that was available, and now it’s so much easier for me!”

And another one of the dads commented:

“It wasn’t until social care got involved that I began to use the services; I wish I had known before, but now I feel it’s too late down the line”.

These were powerful testimonies – and especially highlighted the difficulty many dads face, when so much of the information and services are directed at the mums.

The room next split into table discussions on the theme, looking at questions like: what works well, what could we do differently, and what action can we each contribute to Best Start in our area?

workshop at civic hall It was interesting to see how the public could help shape and implement the policy. I met two lady volunteers on my table from the Hunslet Community Drop-In, which provides a free breakfast and clothes exchange on Wednesday mornings between 10am-12pm at the Hunslet Methodist church. Listening to their experiences of meeting the community from different backgrounds highlighted an interesting point: only when people willingly seek help are they halfway to being helped. This service is free, there is no judgement and everyone is welcome. They provide the opportunity for people to come in sit down and read the information on leaflets in a neutral environment.

The purpose of the meeting illustrated the point for local authorities to support key grassroots organisations like these, whereby they help feedback the communities’ needs, and also get the backing to carry on their work. The formal meeting – chaired by Cllr Angela Gabriel – which followed wrapped it all up nicely, with the ward councillors allocating funding for the following services to continue their community work. These included: Hunslet Warriors RLFC, the Hunslet Methodist Drop-In, the Salvation Army for their Christmas Lantern Festival, and dozens of new public bins in Holbeck & Beeston and Middleton.

The open forum of the meeting brought up key local concerns including dog fouling and speeding. Local police reiterated the importance of reporting any offence, and that new 20mph speed restriction in Middleton will soon give the opportunity for local residents and police to monitor speeding drivers.

It was great to see so many different people come out to look at working to improve the local area – and in particular, it had taken a lot for those young dads to get up and talk in front of so many people. Thanks to all who came, but special credit to Health for All for providing the support network for those young men, and to the Inner South Community Committee for giving them the platform to share their experiences.

Some helpful links on free prenatal services for families: Preparation for Birth and Beyond

Best beginnings ‘Babybuddy’ App; the Inner South Community Committee Newsletter; and the Young Dads Project at Health for All.