Together for Change (TfC) is a programme that focuses on wellbeing or, a better term ‘living well’, in rural villages and towns in Pembrokeshire and nearby counties in West Wales. The programme is coordinated and delivered by a small team in partnership with communities and third and statutory sector organisations. We share our work widely and our website contains some of the work we have completed or is ongoing. 

Jessie Buchanan and I, cofounders of TfC, are often asked why we created TfC, what motivated us to start it and continue. For me the answer to those questions lies, at least in part, in my experience of being involved in the grass roots charity Solva Care, our host organisation. That experience, coupled with local projects, shaped my understanding and views on the importance of communities in the wellbeing of their populations. A career in public health and a passion to tackle health inequalities provided an important basis for what followed. 

Solva Care supports older people to live happy and healthy lives. Volunteers provide day to day support to keep people out of hospital and if they are unlucky enough to be admitted, help them to get out as quickly as possible. Solva Care has been in existence for over seven years, five of which have been funded by the National Lottery Community Fund Wales. 

The idea for it originated from a community assessment facilitated by PLANED and made a reality by Mollie Roach, a Community Councillor in Solva. A radical socialist, Mollie made connections with policy makers, talked to people in the village to see if there was support for the idea and recruited a small group of volunteers to start planning. I was one of those volunteers. A village wide survey, which had a response rate of over 80%, cemented the idea that the voluntary service should get underway. Small scale funding was needed, but was hard to come by, and required endless meetings to convince public sector organisations that what we wanted to do was not only the right thing to do but would also benefit them. Regulations and red tape stood in the way of setting up a domiciliary care service which was an important part of our plans. 

However, a ‘can do’ attitude prevailed and we got underway, often feeling our way with everything that had to be decided and done in relation to, for example: the legal entity we should become; safeguarding; financial management; human resources and monitoring and evaluation. There was little in the way of guidance or the experiences of other communities to draw on, a gap that we subsequently addressed with our toolkit . 

Evaluations have consistently showed that Solva Care has been successful in supporting individuals but is also valued for making connections between people, adding to the pride in, and vibrancy of village life. 

Reflecting on the success of the charity and its longevity, we could see that a catalyst for change (the village assessment) was key, coupled with strong leadership, ambition, and a ‘can do’ attitude. The involvement of the wider community was also important, building on the notion that everyone deserves to live happy and fulfilled lives, in their own homes in the community, with dignity and choices. The relationship with officials in statutory sector organisations was also critical, including the extent to which they understood communities, believed in their rights to determine their future, and trusted them, especially in holding funds. 

The importance of relationships and partnerships forged between our community and public sector organisations was also tested by other community projects. In contrast to Solva Care the Save Solva School campaign and the attempt to purchase the tenant farm Trecadwgan were much less positive experiences. It was the belief that if we worked together, we could achieve much more for the benefit of communities that led to the creation of TfC – Together for Change –together meaning communities and organisations planning and working together for a better life for all, and change meaning improving and maintaining the support needed for communities of place to thrive. 

Working closely with Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services (PAVS) and PLANED, the Chief Executives of which saw the potential of an additional but different approach to influencing policy, our first task was to draw together people from all walks of life to address the question- what do we need to do to work together to build a better life for our communities? 

The consensus was that we must : 

  • Develop a shared understanding, a joint vision, and trust, based on a social and environmental model of wellbeing
  • Draw on evidence of what works well in everything that we do, and address gaps in evidence
  • Do and not just talk – actually put in place the support needed for communities to thrive.

When people ask what our major achievement has been in our first two years, I reply that we have just got started in bringing the voice of communities to decision makers. In shaping our next phase, we want to be more ambitious and radical and engage with our partners to ensure that the needs of communities and policies coalesce consistently and fairly across geographical and economic divides. The inequalities in our society: social, economic, cultural and environmental, are endemic and getting worse and must be tackled by a mix of policy and local action. Young people are especially disadvantaged economically and are forced to leave the county to make a life elsewhere.

Our work to date has shown that assets, both human and built, are unevenly distributed across our rural communities. Democratic bodies, at the locality i.e. parish level, differ enormously and do not serve communities equally well for engagement. Communities still lack power in the policy decisions that affect their future, although there are examples of good progress being made.

Communities need tailored support to thrive and that requires a granular knowledge of their needs and an understanding of their ways of working. Creative approaches and a reliance on volunteers do not sit well with traditional planning models and set timescales. Furthermore, evaluation should be useful and accessible, with data shared in real time to instigate change.

A strong and coordinated partnership approach in Pembrokeshire holds much promise for working together to make inroads in addressing profound challenges in these turbulent times.

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