The role of volunteering in community-centred public health system – case studies with NCVO

In early 2020, Public Health England’s Healthy Communities Team partnered with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and developed a number of case studies that reflected the role of volunteering in community-centred public health systems. This was part of PHE’s work on whole system approaches to community-centred public health, as well as NCVO’s workplan as a member of the VCSE Health & Wellbeing Alliance.

Through this work, NCVO pulled together six case studies that reflect a range of public health themes and volunteering approaches. They also reflect work from a range of settings, from rural Cumbria to large cities such as Birmingham and Sheffield.


TitleBrief synopsis
Birmingham Ageing BetterA community development approach in Birmingham to tackle isolation and loneliness and reduce health inequalities, established as part of a National Lottery-funded Ageing Better strategic investment programme. Target areas of the city and priority groups of people were identified through academic research and a mix of structures were set up to enable communities to take the lead. The approach involves delivery partners, paid staff, volunteers and informal community connectors. Crucially there is a small easy-to-access micro fund to cover set up costs and expenses of community activities. The design and delivery of the programme is guided at every stage by a group of 20 people with lived experience of social isolation. 10,000 citizens are now involved, and the city council is funding the replication of the approach across the whole city.
Gloucestershire Gateway TrustCommunity development and regeneration charity, Gloucestershire Gateway Trust (GGT), was set up after residents’ associations in the most deprived housing estates of Gloucester came up with the idea to develop a motorway services with a difference. Rather than following a traditional business model, Gloucester Services was developed to create a sustainable source of funding for its neighbouring communities. Now in its sixth year, this community-led business partnership has long-term funding commitments to nine partners working in local communities as well as offering short term grants to many others. It also provides work and training to hundreds of local residents, a marketplace for local products and has contributed to the regeneration the surrounding green area. Residents remain the driving force behind GGT’s work. A team of local community surveyors work with residents to collect their views and develop local plans for action to improve quality of life, and the health and wellbeing of residents.
Halifax Opportunities TrustCommunity outreach and one-on-one workers from the Staying Well Hub in the predominantly Asian/British Asian population of central Halifax are working to improve residents’ health and wellbeing. By digging deep into the barriers to health and wellbeing and upskilling members of the community themselves, the team ensure they can rapidly adapt to tackle issues of concern to residents, creating a full and rounded response as well as filling gaps where they are identified. A close working relationship with public health officials works two-ways by ensuring that the community approach is targeted at issues having the biggest impact on population health, whilst at the same time ensuring that the reality on the ground in the community is reflected in statutory sector planning and services. By taking this approach hundreds of residents are receiving more effective support to help address their health and wellbeing and understanding of barriers in the community are better understood by officials designing and delivering services.
Jo's Cervical Cancer TrustA community-centred approach in Manchester, London and Scotland to prevent cervical cancer and reduce health inequalities. It focuses on working within communities to understand and address the different barriers that women and people with a cervix face in accessing screening. Outreach is tailored to each community and scaled sustainably through the training of local community connectors, formal volunteer community champions and healthcare professionals. As a result screening rates increased, relationships and partnerships were formed across the health and care systems, and new ways of working with communities established.
Millom Integrated Care CommunityThe community of the isolated Cumbrian town of Millom ensures the views of residents are front and centre of the design and delivery of services by being part of the leadership team of the local health and care partnership alongside NHS and council managers and GPs. Born out of crisis, this community-centred approach to health and care is based on strong relationships and trust. Today volunteers, charities and community groups are a central part of a coordinated effort to improve health and wellbeing of residents in the town. Working in this way has helped change the way professionals work as well as the population’s attitudes to health and wellbeing. It also enabled a rapid response during the COVID-19 crisis.
South Yorkshire Housing AssociationA housing plus approach from South Yorkshire Housing Association to improve residents’ mental wellbeing, reduce loneliness and isolation and connect people with meaningful work and activities. By immersing themselves in health and care and building new partnerships, South Yorkshire Housing Association work across systems and communities to support people to live well and realise their potential. Central to their approach is that all programmes are designed, delivered and evaluated with the people that will benefit from it. This way of working has produced significant and meaningful impact that includes supporting 10,000 people with health conditions into appropriate employment or community activity a year.


There are a wide range of practice examples of community-centred approaches in action, including others linked to our work on whole system approaches.


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Last Updated on 16th June 2023 by rgledhill

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