Monday, 22 September 2014

Creating Community Partnerships

Recently Karl and I met to discuss the exciting growth in collaborations and the developing partnership between Leeds Metropolitan University (Leeds Beckett University from 22 September) and York Street Health Practice. These collaborations reflect a new and innovative way of working in, and for the community between the NHS and education.

Karl works on the CommUNIty Initiative which is based in the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences at Leeds Met University. CommUNIty has an overarching goal of finding new more effective ways to improve health and reduce health inequalities in the region. It aims to achieve this through supporting the development of meaningful, sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships between Leeds Met. and community/voluntary organisations. Practically, this means scoping out current partnership work within the university, building rapport with university staff and community partners, seeking ways to share knowledge and resources, and proactively seeking out opportunities for future collaboration. Formally established in 2013, CommUNIty has developed from the collaborative work of Prof. Jane South and colleagues in the Faculty, particularly the strategic partnership work with Hamara healthy living centre in Beeston. What the collaboration with Hamara has and continues to demonstrate, is that investment in a sharing and open relationship with community organisations has benefits not only for the academic institution and the community partner, but also the broader community in which the work is situated.

Community partnerships, supported by the CommUNIty initiative with the likes of Leeds Community Healthcare Trust and St. George’s Crypt offer universities a multitude of benefits. They offer opportunities for research and teaching, allowing academics and students to access knowledge from people who are delivering practices being taught in the classroom, and experiential knowledge from people who are receiving services. Conversely these partnerships enable the academic community to share knowledge garnered through research, with community partners and promotes joint working to ensure findings are presented and disseminated in a ways which meet the needs of the target audience. Partnership working also offers opportunities for staff and students to share and develop their skills in the community through volunteering and placements and provides opportunities for widening participation in teaching and research.

As we sat drinking coffee talking about how our services were working together we ended up talking about the essence of what good partnership means and looks like. We often presume good partnership work exists. But what does it look like? What are its component parts? Three things came to mind in the discussion, of course many other key aspects could have been mentioned too. The three things were service, strengths and steer. These three are the glue and life to what make compassionate and successful partnerships. They are glue because they hold partnerships together. They are life as they breathe creativity, energy and vision into partnerships.

Service has to be at the heart of all good partnership work. The day we forget people is the day the rot starts. People and their service have to be at the centre of all we try to do and accomplish. Every circle has and needs a centre. Nature abhors a vacuum and if people aren't the substance of our work other things will rush in to fill the absence. We miss the point if we miss the people. One of the authors remembers years ago hearing a tape by a business sales trainer. In it he asked his audience 'What is the purpose of a business? 'To make a profit' they called back. 'No' he said, 'You're wrong.'   It's to make and keep a customer. If you do this the profit will follow as night follows day. And to keep a customer we have to treat people well and with honesty and respect.' The trainer knew the truth. It's all about people and service.

Partnerships are places where we offer our strengths and gifts to make things happen. We found ourselves in our conversation using the analogy of partnerships being people who bring different strengths to the table to share and create something new. These strengths are usually what our work roles are. They are also what life and loved ones have taught us. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, talked about how as a child he got electronic kits which as well as giving him electronic know how gave him a real level of self-confidence. Our gifts make and sustain partnerships, so does our lack. What we don't have teaches us the value of the other. What other colleagues bring enriches and shapes our experience and practice. Partnerships are spaces for our gifts to contribute. They are also arenas to discover our latent talents and possibilities. Partnerships teach us to be humble too. We don't know it all, we need each other.

The last aspect is steer, or steering. In business and leadership circles this means to lead and give direction. The book by Jean Philippe Deschamps sums it up.  It's called 'Innovation Leaders: How Senior Executives Stimulate, Steer and Sustain Innovation.' Partnerships without good leadership are like a car without a steering wheel or a ship without a rudder. The leadership steers the partnership onward and forward looking. What is good leadership? There are many answers to this. One answer is that good leadership - in fact great leadership - isn't about what we've got - it's about what we give. Think about great leaders such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. They gave all to the cause they committed themselves to. Dr King paid the ultimate price with his assassination. Nelson Mandela spent over 20 years in prison. Thankfully, we will probably not be asked to make these sacrifices. But, we can learn the lesson that great leadership often means great giving. There's a secret here, giving has a boomerang effect. We may give but it often comes back to us in different ways and forms. Some of the best partnerships in the city happen because those involved give and give to make it work, and yet the returns on this investment are often much greater than the sum of what has been put in.

Partnerships are the future of this city. We are happy and feel honoured to be involved in the building of them. The 6th President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, said, 'If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.'  Dreaming, learning, doing, leading and becoming more - these are the charter and content of the partnership we are working to bring about. In difficult days for so many these are signs of hope and new ways of working.

John Walsh, York Street Health Practice
Karl Witty, Team Lead for CommUNIty Partnerships, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Leeds Metropolitan University 

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