Faith groups are an important part of community life in Southwark. For some vulnerable people, they are the first point of call in a crisis and they offer a social safety net that other organisations cannot provide.
Southwark Council wants to increase collaboration with its faith groups to improve health and well-being in its communities. Over the last three years the council has undertaken a number of workshops and established working groups to facilitate collaboration. In 2020, it asked Common to produce a scoping report to identify further opportunities for collaboration and explore ways of making them happen. This project was a partnership between Southwark Council’s Public Health team, Southwark’s Faith Community Relationship Lead, members of the Southwark Faith Communities, Shola Oladipo of Food for Purpose, Siriol Davies of Diocese of Southwark, and Common Collective.
We started with a brief evidence review of publicly available reports and academic papers where we outlined a set of principles for partnering with faith communities. We then organised two gatherings – a conference and a workshop – to enable faith groups and other partners to share their needs and the issues they wished to address, and to discuss ways the groups and Southwark could collaborate. We also held a stakeholder mapping workshop with the council in which we listed more than 50 health and well-being initiatives already being run by faith groups in Southwark.
Based on this scoping work, we identified four areas for Southwark Council and the community to explore:
- Establish a forum for discussing and championing the faith community’s health projects and its work reducing health inequalities in the borough.
- Develop a skills programme that would allow local people to support vulnerable people in their communities. This would be developed in collaboration with a health provider (such as a mental health practitioner or dietician).
- To increase people’s trust in health information (for example on covid tests and vaccines), faith communities and healthcare teams to work together to co-design health information that is personalised to the community.
- Develop a services and referral map that could be shared with faith communities to ensure congregations are aware of the healthcare services available to them.
We also highlighted four other ideas to consider: make use of faith or community centres as places where health services could be delivered; explore the influence of cultural identity on health and well-being; conduct further surveys or scoping work to improve understanding of the faith community’s needs and priorities; showcase the impressive work that is already being done in faith communities, using case studies, photography and film.