Reflections and Review of 2020

In December 2019 we looked ahead with relish to the projects we would be working on, and the clients, partners and associates we would be working with over the course of 2020. As it turned out COVID-19 defined 2020, bringing with it a huge human toll. It quickly compounded health, social and economic inequality in communities across the UK and globally. But we have been fortunate to be working with organisations and for clients that wanted to learn from and respond to the crisis as best they could. It has led us to embrace working online, to think again about how we communicate, engage and encourage learning in the online world, and to turn our assumptions about what can be achieved in this environment upside down.

The Just Ideas Collaborative has been a real strength to draw on over this turbulent year – our team of nine Associates who, quite apart from bringing an extraordinary range of skills to our work, have made 2020 rich in learning and creative thinking, and been a social rock too. We have valued this connectedness, keeping in touch via WhatsApp and using group calls to practice Zoom facilitation and participatory or visual tools we have adapted to work online. In November we arranged Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training for Just Ideas’ staff and Associates, with the realisation of how significant the MHFA qualification will be in our work, communities and personal lives. From a personal point of view we want to thank the Collaborative sincerely for all their support and contribution over the year.

Once again the artwork for this review has been supplied by Natalie Ganpatsingh of Nature Nurture, and an Associate of Just Ideas. You can see the tree creation process here. The tree image is meaningful for many reasons. It is…

  • a reminder of how much being able to access nature benefits our mental and physical health, particularly over this year
  • a symbol of rootedness and strength, the type of resilience and resourcefulness that we have had to draw on over the year
  • essential to consideration of climate change and sustainable living with its role in carbon dioxide absorption, and its seasonality feeding the soil under us and a reminder to us that though the earth’s cycles remain they are changing as a result of human activity.

Use the headings below to find out more about our involvement in:

Understanding and supporting mental health

Envisioning the perfect mental health learning event

Concern about rising levels of poor mental health in the community, exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, has led organisations we work with to look at how to grow understanding of mental health issues, how people can help themselves and others, and what further support is needed:

For Local Trust we delivered two well evaluated workshops in October with participants from Big Local areas, supporting people to understand mental health in their communities and the impact of the pandemic, as well as identifying their local priorities and action they could take. Some of the key issues for action coming out of the sessions were: preventing isolation and financial insecurity; reducing the impact on children and young people; and tackling widening health inequalities.

The best Zoom workshop session I have been on this year.

Following this we recently began online facilitation of a Mental Health Learning Cluster for Big Locals supporting people to understand and engage more deeply with the topic of mental health in their communities. Over the course of 2021 we look forward to enabling this network to gain ideas, inspiration and resources to help support their communities.

Helen was also part of a team led by WSA Community Consultants to evaluate the second phase of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance’s Everyone’s Business campaign, focusing particularly on evaluating how the campaign has responded to the COVID-19 crisis.

Increasing patient and public voice in health

PPV Partner Zoom training session

Our work in support of patient and public voice in the health and care has deepened and developed over 2020, working in close partnership with WSA Community Consultants. For NHS England and NHS Improvement’s Public Participation Team our partnership has focused on three key projects:




  • Developing online the successful face to face ‘Influence and Impact’ Patient and Public Voice partners (PPV) training. Though we kicked off 2020 with a face-to-face course in London, with lockdown in March we successfully adapted the training for delivery online. A pilot of the new digital course was well received in July 2020 and we were commissioned to deliver a further three courses into 2021.

Loved it and feel like I have improved my standing in the PPV role as well as grown in confidence.
Fantastic training. Well delivered engaging, interesting, relevant and fun.

  • Reviewing and bringing online the ‘10 Steps to Even Better Public Engagement’ training. This partnership project sought to update and digitalize the course. It built on our knowledge delivering the training face-to-face with NHS staff. Working closely with the Public Participation team and peer trainers from our PPV training we were able to successfully update this essential course.
  • Developing e-learning courses to support PPV partners and NHS staff. This ongoing project involves reviewing modules we wrote in 2017 as a learning resource for PPV partners, and developing new courses to understand and explore health inequalities, the role of carers, and the commissioning process within the NHS. We look forward to this going live in 2021!

Helen’s involvement with Building Health Partnerships for IVAR (Institute for Voluntary Action Research) is drawing to the close of its latest iteration. Supporting partnerships of cross-sector leaders in health and care to explore ways of working better together around locally important health and care issues has been massively rewarding over the last ten years. And in the current pandemic there have been opportunities to accelerate a shift towards greater collaboration between people and communities, voluntary sector partners, statutory agencies and NHS systems and organisations. The culmination of this work was a fantastically inspiring and inclusive national conference, Transforming Health and Care Together, with over 200 participants over two days and inspiring speakers from across the programme. We celebrated opportunities taken, and challenges, to working more collaboratively. And the ethos of Building Health Partnerships – equipping leaders to build relationships that can transform our health and care systems – will carry on throughout our work.

Climate action and sustainable development

Climate action on the agenda at Reading Youth Council Conference – February 2020

Though social distancing and quarantine rules curtailed travel in 2020 we were able to connect online globally through work for Bioregional’s One Planet Living team. Our market research for Bioregional aimed to understand what support municipalities need to tackle the climate emergency. We engaged through survey and interviews with representatives from towns and cities in the UK, Canada, South Africa, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands. It was inspiring and energizing to hear the commitment that there already is – articulated through declarations of a climate emergency and city wide strategies – and the urgency and willingness to turn this commitment into action by sharing ideas on how best to tackle the biggest global threat we face.

Just Ideas did a wonderful job of designing, running and analysing the results of both qualitative and quantitative research. They also developed a post-research workshop with us to explore the results with those involved in the research. This online-only event was well run and had so many positives for us – from new connections within our programme, to real, useful data, to it just being enjoyable to do!

The One Planet Living framework also underpins work which Mary did to develop and publish Just Ideas’ Environmental Policy. Our policy – and the environmental statement that accompanies it – lays out our commitments to reducing the impact of our day-to-day activities and recognises the importance of contributing to our local communities through volunteering.

COP 26, scheduled to be in Glasgow in November, had been expected to focus the world’s attention on ratcheting up national plans to tackle climate change and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With its postponement to 2021 there is still much to be done and our work with InterClimate Network (ICN) reflects this – in supporting young people to take a lead on climate action locally. ICN have developed a schools’ climate conference resource, enabling students to experience a mini-version of the global talks in the classroom. We are working with local Reading schools on holding their own climate talks in-house using this resource, as well as a diagnostic climate change survey for schools. It was exciting to co-facilitate an online version of the model climate conference with schools in Liverpool at the start of the December – we hope this paves the way to further engagement with schools using available video conferencing technology.

Learning partners

There are many useful insights coming out of the experience of funders and network organisations during 2020 – the importance of flexibility, adaptability, and really listening to the issues that charities and communities organisations are facing have been key.

A good example of this is our ongoing work with Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation as learning partner and evaluator of its Valuing the Ocean programme. It continues to work towards the conservation and sustainable management of the ocean for the wellbeing of people now and in future, but with recognition of the impact COVID-19 has had on the ability to connect directly with marine communities, to say nothing of the postponement of key international ocean conferences. Our role as critical friends has involved listening, researching, facilitating and evaluating over the course of part 2 of the programme. We are working towards a final report for the work early in 2021 which will feed into future priorities as the Foundation considers support for greater climate action.

We are excited to be working in partnership with IVAR providing evaluation and learning support to Local Trust’s innovative Community Leadership Academy. Over 2020 we’ve worked closely with colleagues in the delivery team, at Local Trust and with CLA participants, a period in which the programme pivoted to be delivered online. We developed an evaluation framework that reflects the current priorities for the CLA as it looks ahead to expansion and development beyond 2021. It has been hugely rewarding to share learning from the process and see how that is reflected in the future shape of the Community Leadership Academy.

Communities at the heart of decision making

Meetings work outdoors! SO18 Big Local

Just Ideas, in partnership with WSA, have just started working with new charity, Engage Britain, on an exciting piece of work around health and care (find out more here). The project will bring together the public, practitioners, charities and communities to develop new ways forward for health and care across Britain. Engage Britain strongly believe that people – by coming together and sharing their experiences – can come up with answers to some of the biggest challenges facing our country, so a perfect fit with our mission! The first part of this project is a series of 100 Community Conversations, which we’re working with Engage Britain to host and record. The ideas that come out of these conversations will be developed, discussed and tested with the public, patients, frontline staff and politicians over the next 18 months or so. The goal is to see these ideas reflected and adopted in national policies, and build a network of people in communities talking (and being listened to) about health and care. We’re looking to recruit a number of Conversation Hosts from a diverse range of communities and in different roles (community members, patients and service users, frontline workers) across England, Scotland and Wales. If you might be interested in hosting a conversation, or might be able to spread the word amongst your colleagues and networks, do get in touch asap!

This year has seen the importance of community coming to the fore more than ever before. Big Local areas are uniquely placed to identify the needs of their communities and access and deliver support. From food deliveries and craft packs in lockdown to addressing the mental health impacts of the crisis, the passion of residents has shone through this crisis. Helen continues to work as a Rep supporting a number of Big Local areas, and we are working with the inspiring Local Trust programme in a number of other ways:

  • Supporting Big Local areas to assess and demonstrate the difference they are making. Richard has enjoyed working with Brookside Big Local in Telford with a focal point being great participation at a community engagement and evaluation workshop in February before lockdown.
  • Leila Baker is working with Worle Big Local supporting their community research initiative and integrating measuring change approaches into their 3 year plan.
  • A small team of Just Ideas Associates (Amardeep and Graeme) worked with us to research and develop resources to equip Big Local areas to grow and learn in an uncertain future. We support them to look at what the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on in their areas – for example inequalities, mental health, connectedness – and to build into their planning what they have learned, in order to build kinder, more collaborative, connected, supportive partnerships and communities.

2020 demonstrated that the spirit of volunteerism is very much alive and well in our communities. The challenge for organisations involving volunteers is how to harness this interest and enthusiasm. Helen has continued to deliver volunteer management training for Talk Action which helps those working with volunteers develop ways of recruiting, managing, engaging and supporting volunteers from across their communities, building the capacity of organisations, and creating valuable and appealing volunteer roles in the process. Through Talk Action, Helen also developed an online Community Engagement Training course, and delivered a bespoke session for the Crown Prosecution Service’s Community Engagement team.

Supporting organisations to tackle
social isolation and homelessness

In Reading Launchpad has been at the forefront of ensuring that people at risk of homelessness and moving on from immediate temporary accommodation get the support and opportunity to access training, education and jobs. In 2020 Richard provided an evaluation of the volunteering programme that underpins many of Launchpad’s services – this was just before lockdown, with face-to-face interviews and consultation that now seems quite distant. We commended their work then and during the crisis they have continued to ensure that people at risk of homelessness are supported and able to find accommodation.

St Martins in the Field Charity wanted to ‘walk the walk’ with their advocacy to other organisations around prioritising staff welfare and wellbeing. Richard delivered a staff wellbeing survey to support this work which will lead to a more strategic approach and new developments to support staff wellbeing in the charity.

Mentoring and coaching: Just Ideas’ Associates Leila Baker and Graeme Fancourt have been working with individual staff members of a number of national and local social justice charities in a mentoring role, supporting their development and growth in a range of contexts. We are looking forward to reflecting on and developing this mentoring support further – let us know if your organisation might be interested, and watch this space!

Tree adaptability – Borrowdale 2020

Looking back over such a challenging year we celebrate the successes, the minor breakthroughs, and the major changes to Just Ideas’ work with such inspiring partners, organisations and communities. We hope this brief review conveys a sense of how we try to make our work positively purposeful, as well as giving a flavour of how we work. As we enter our fourteenth year we want to build on those things we wouldn’t change about how we’ve worked in 2020, and continue to work with clients who are tackling the social, economic and health impact of the pandemic. We look forward to a 2021 that brings new opportunities, consolidates existing relationships and develops new partnerships. If you want to be part of that, please do get in touch.

Richard, Helen and Mary, the Just Ideas team.