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Unlocking the value of voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations

25th September 2017

Our Head of Prevention, Jemma Gilbert, explains why we’ve published a new guide to support health and care commissioners to work with voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations to improve the health of Londoners


Voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations are a crucial partners for commissioners when it comes to improving the health and wellbeing of their communities.

They can help deliver place-based solutions to health and wellbeing challenges that stem the flow of demand to NHS and social care services and help to build capacity in the community by building local resilience for healthy living in communities.

Our health is shaped not just by our genetics or the choices we make day to day but can be impacted by our experiences in life, our home situation, and how socially connected we are to others.

Voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations often have a wealth of knowledge and connections within their local community and are able to narrow health inequalities by reaching people who would not usually engage with the public sector. They are also able to access and build on local assets and attract funding toward health from outside of the public sector.

Our new guide, Unlocking the value of voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations for improving population health and wellbeing, includes a variety of approaches to working with the sector to help improve the health of Londoners.

These approaches range from adapting commissioning processes, engaging the sector to develop more sustainable business models, as well as creating an environment within which new organisations or initiatives can be kick-started and spun-out.

The guide is intended to stimulate dialogue on the value of the sector, its ability to create additional capacity for improving health and care in the community and the role that commissioners should play in ensuring the sector remains diverse and sustainable.

It builds on work done by Healthy London Partnership last year where we kick-started and incubated two place-based initiatives, led by local people and social entrepreneurs, that are capable of delivering health outcomes without on-going public sector funding.

The Healthy Communities project focused on childhood obesity within Tower Hamlets, Haringey and Hackney, with three different initiatives developed based on local needs. The FanActiv project focused on tackling obesity through a physical activity intervention which harnessed the competitive spirit of football fans.

Each of the initiatives were designed with sustainable business models at their core, piloted and independently evaluated. As a result, most of them have the potential to operate independently of public sector funding. This means they have the potential to be scaled and those which demonstrated positive outcomes in the pilot phase are now transitioning into social enterprise models.

The guide is also based on broad engagement, interviews and input from a wide range of thought leaders from across the system; including commissioners, funders, social enterprises, charities and other innovators. It includes case studies which demonstrate some of the potential opportunities for commissioners.

Through this work we found that parts of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector are under immense financial pressure and at risk of collapsing, and indeed many local organisations have ceased to exist in the last five years.

Equally, parts of the sector have great potential to develop more diverse and sustainable income streams – beyond the public sector – but don’t always have the knowledge, skills and necessary support to do this effectively.

We believe that by using limited public sector funds more effectively, at both a local and London-wide level, by working more closely with the sector to design services more sustainably, and by incentivising greater collaboration and the development of more diverse business models; more could be achieved for people and communities.

By effectively activating and incubating voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations, commissioners would not only see their money going further, but would also start to see the increase in prevention and improvements in the health of their communities that is required to bring the health system into balance.

While commissioners have a role to play, they aren’t solely responsible for the sustainability of their local voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. The sector itself will need to look within to ensure it is demonstrating impact and developing sustainable business models, including forming partnerships and alliances where appropriate. And other funders, infrastructure bodies, and the private sector will need to come together to ensure the value provided by local voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations is sustainable.

We hope all commissioners in London find this guide useful in helping them to realise the potential of working more strategically with voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations to improve the health and wellbeing of Londoners.”

For more information about our Prevention programme contact Jemma Gilbert at

About the author

Jemma Gilbert is a Londoner, mum to Jasper, Zumba lover and Head of Prevention at Healthy London Partnership. Always trying to be a little bit healthier like most other mums! Jemma is an experienced health strategist and has led many London transformation programmes. Since 2015, Jemma has been leading the Healthy London Partnership’s Prevention Programme to implement the Mayor’s aim to make London the healthiest city in the world.

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