Looking Back, Looking Forward 2021


Our usual annual review timing took a hit in December when COVID-19 finally reached the Just Ideas office. So, this review extends into the still uncertain year of 2022.  Over this time we have been glad of opportunities to reconnect with people in the same room, recognising the power and connection of face-to-face working, and the value of social connection which can be inhibited online. We are grateful for the support and fantastic work of the Just Ideas Collaborative – a growing team of associates who have worked with us on a range of projects during 2021 and early 2022. We have all benefitted from the creative, cross-pollination of ideas, resources and experience in the projects we worked on together, helped by productive, co-working sessions that Helen facilitated across the year. We continue with the energy and optimism that flows from this collaborative approach to our work in 2022.

The hexagon design of our artwork was a deliberate choice influenced by its strong linkage with natural design, in particular beehives. In brief research for this review we learnt that bees build cylindrical cells that later transform into hexagonal prisms through a process that it is still debated! What isn’t debated is that the hexagonal shape strongly holds the queen bee’s eggs and stores the pollen and honey the worker bees bring to the hive: a model of resilience, nourishment, and sustainability! These continue to be principles that we value and support in the projects and organisations that we work with. Thank you to Natalie Ganpatsingh at Nature Nurture CIC for her creative skills once again with the artwork – watch it come to life here.

Fittingly our review has six brief sections that headline the main themes of our work. We see these as a foundation for the next year and beyond.

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

Supporting people to realise their voice

Health and care services benefit from the influence and insight of patients and the public. Supporting this ‘voice’ within services has continued to be a focus for our work, often in partnership with WSA Community Consultants. During the first half of 2021 considerable energy and effort went into the highly successful delivery of Engage Britain’s Community Conversations programme with WSA. This programme seeks to put peoples’ experience at the heart of influencing national policy on health and care.  We recruited, trained and supported 76 community conversation ‘hosts’ – who connected with people in their local area using their networks to facilitate the conversations on Zoom. 715 individuals took part in the conversations. We were delighted that this was first taste of community consultation and voice for many – 74% hadn’t experienced anything similar before – and crucially 97% enjoyed taking part in the conversation!

Our work in support of patient and public voice in the health and care for NHS England and NHS Improvement strengthened over the course of 2021, again working in close partnership with WSA Community Consultants. For NHS England and Improvement’s Public Participation Team our partnership focused on three key projects:

  • Delivering online ‘Influence and Impact’ training for Patient and Public Voice partners (PPV). Following our successful move to online delivery last year the training engaged 43 learners over 3 sessions between November 2020 and March 2021.
    ‘It’s been fun. It’s caused me to stop and think about my role. To challenge my own motives.’ ‘It’s rekindled my energy. Would thoroughly recommend this course to everybody’
  • Writing, reviewing and updating e-learning resources to support PPV partners and NHS staff. We developed new courses to understand and explore health inequalities, the role of carers, and the commissioning process within the NHS.
  • Delivering ‘10 Steps to engaging people and communities’ – 6 online courses over 2021 – working with peer trainers and NHS co-facilitators. The 10 Steps approach starts with the health outcome that participants want to achieve and works systematically through a process of identifying who, how and why to involve patients and the public successfully, as well as thinking about how to assess the impact of this approach.
  • Facilitating Open Space sessions for the NHS Engagement Practitioners’ Network. The Network supports practitioners’ working across health and care, and professionals who are looking to improve how they engage with people and communities.We are glad to be building on our experience of successful delivery with further sessions and courses for NHS England Improvement over the first half of 2022.

Closer to our Reading base we relished working alongside colleagues at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead on their #RBWMTogether programme – bringing health professionals, specialist voluntary sector organisations and members of the public together to address health issues in Windsor and Maidenhead. It was striking how much has been learnt in the community response to Covid, particularly around tackling social isolation and mental health issues in the area:

‘Your style of engaging with people – everyone felt very positive about that, people felt relaxed and could engage and didn’t feel pressured…that’s quite unique and it enabled people to really focus on the events themselves. The focus was never on you as facilitators.’

We reached internationally through Helen’s work, in partnership with WSA Community Consultants, for the Non-Communicable Disease Alliance (NCDA). The project was to design a remote version of NCDA’s training course for people living with non-communicable diseases to become advocates and support the training of other advocates.

The voice of local people is at the centre of the Big Local programme which we have supported through a range of projects in 2021.

  • Our Together We Plan! resource was published in the summer and has been shared online and in hard copy with the 150 areas that make up the Big Local programme across England. It brings together the insights and experience of Big Local areas as they responded to community priorities during the COVID-19 crisis, and offers useful approaches for community groups in developing and planning their work during these uncertain times.
  • Helen’s role as a rep for SO18 and Marsh and Micklefield Big Locals continues, as they look towards and beyond the end of this funding programme in 2026.
  • Richard enjoyed further work alongside Brookside Big Local working as a member of the national research team co-ordinated by the Third Sector Research Centre, exploring and learning from responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in 26 communities. With a final report forthcoming, ‘Now they see us: Communities responding to COVID-19’ summarises findings in July 2021. He also supported community consultation, online surveys and the development of the Brookside Big Local Plan for the next three years.
  • We are currently working alongside Local Trust to develop a diagnostic or health check tool and support package to support Big Local partnerships to reflect on and provide a springboard for their work in the last four years of the Big Local programme.

COP26 in Glasgow focused the world’s attention on the climate emergency, and the need for urgent climate action, as well as frustration at the slow pace of change. Just Ideas continued to connect with the voice of young people in raising awareness of climate change and in moving on with climate action. Our work with InterClimate Network (ICN) over the last year has focused on the vital importance of young people engaging, having a voice and taking action on climate change. With ICN Programme Manager and Just Ideas Associate, Michila Critchley, we facilitated four ‘model’ climate conferences online and three either in school or council chambers, and supported the take up of a diagnostic climate action survey with schools. In Reading we were really grateful for the support of Reading Borough Council in providing its Council Chamber for the event, and Reading Climate Change Partnership for its funding support. In a period with limited opportunity for inter-school activity it will live long in the memories of those involved as well as being a powerful learning experience!

Reading Model Climate Conference 2021

Reading Model Climate Conference 2021

Connecting people to learn from each other

Working online can increase access to learning events, but at a community level also depends on having access to the internet and a device that makes this possible. Our work focused on facilitating and supporting others to connect online, and in person:


People talking at tables outdoors

Outdoor solutions! Big Local Mental Health Learning Cluster

  • Helen, Mary and our Associate Laura Wallis facilitated the Big Local Mental Health Learning Cluster in a series of seven workshops across 2021, with a final session which was hosted by Stoke North Big Local over two days in September 2021.Participants from 19 Big Locals increased their confidence talking about and exploring initiatives that will support mental health within their communities.
  • Richard and Just Ideas Associate Graeme Fancourt facilitated seven sessions with Big Local participants from 20 Big Locals building understanding of digital inclusion between February and September 2021:
    ‘At the beginning of the Cluster I realised we all had similar issues around digital inclusion and we were all sharing ideas and knowledge to make change. It’s been really good!’
  • Helen’s work as a Senior Associate of IVAR on the Connecting Health Communities programme, which launched during 2021, draws on her previous expertise of facilitating IVAR’s Building Health Partnerships programme. CHC aims to deliver transformational changes to health and social care through developing and building partnerships between the health sector, the VCSE (Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise) sector and local people.

Learning and evaluating to increase impact

Learning is at the core of what we do – both internally and in creating reflective spaces for other people and organisations to learn. In our evaluation and research work we ensure that learning is shared with stakeholders – those involved in the research or evaluation process – as well as with our clients:

  • Over the course of 2021 and in to 2022, Just Ideas has worked in partnership with IVAR as evaluation and learning partner to Local Trust’s Community Leadership Academy programme. Now in its’ third year the Academy provides support for the people making Big Local happen, helping them to develop and share skills and knowledge that can benefit the whole community. Our work with participants, the delivery team and Local Trust colleagues brings out the learning of what is working and what the impact of it has been so far at individual and community level. Through learning workshops, case studies and reports we work to share this learning and steer the programme.
  • Trussell Trust commissioned us to deliver the Pathfinder Impact project. This vanguard  programme is putting into practice their strategic aim of ending the need for food banks, and we are working with 10 pilot food banks to evidence and learn from their changing work towards this aim.
  • Partnering with WSA, we have continued working with the Maternal Mental Health Alliance on evaluation of their Everyone’s Business campaign. Our joint report highlights the MMHA’s important role in driving forward changes in perinatal mental healthcare.
  • In June 2021 we produced a synthesis summary of our work with Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Valuing the Ocean programme from 2017-2020. The programme continues its work towards the conservation and sustainable management of the ocean for the wellbeing of people now and in future
  • Working with a Just Ideas Collaborative team we developed and delivered research commissioned by Local Trust into the effectiveness of relationships between Big Locals and Public Agencies. The research approach drew on the creative skills of our Associate Lisa Meaney who developed a visual relationship mapping tool for Big Local partnerships to assess and show their relationships with statutory partners. Having reported on this work we are now developing a practical toolkit for Big Local areas to take forward their work with public agencies.
  • Richard worked with Tonge with the Haulgh Big Local to develop a theory of change for its projects and activities – working interactively, online with the partnership’s evaluation group.

Adapting to new ways of working

As we moved in and out of lockdown during 2021 Just Ideas responded to changes in ways of working and connecting with people. The opportunities of engaging with people online, while still bringing our participatory way of working, have enabled us to reach more people more easily in some contexts. There was significant interest in hybrid approaches that helped people join a workshop or event either in person or online, and we quickly focused on how to make the most of this opportunity rather than impairing the engagement or enjoyment of either online or in person participants:

  • For Local Trust we delivered a series of four workshop events with Big Local partnership members, workers and reps, including one at the national Connects conference in October 2021.
  • We developed a two-page good practice guide based on this experience which is available to download from our Resources page.
  • Richard worked intensively on focus groups and interviews with IVAR during May 2021 on research bringing together the learning from Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s response to the pandemic as a funder.
  • Identifying and sharing best practice during challenging times has also been a cornerstone of our work with the Community Hospital Association (CHA). Our project with CHA engaged with 30 community hospitals gathering examples of innovation and good practice during the pandemic, with learning shared back through a set of case studies for the network.

Collaborating for positive change

‘Collaborative Days’ were a successful, new initiative in 2021 bringing together the Just Ideas Collaborative and reaching wider colleagues, facilitated by Helen. We developed and trialled the first Collaborative Day in June 2021 – combining input and insights from the Collaborative team, space to practice new online skills and time to focus on work tasks with accountability to the group! Since then two further days have been highly valued by all involved:

Nurturing: people and organisations

Our ability to nurture people within and outside Just Ideas is central to our belief that with the right support, encouragement and access to experience people can realise their potential. Over the last year we have:

  • Worked with the St Martins in the Field Charity staff team providing a programme of mentoring (through Just Ideas’ Associate Graeme and Leila) and we are moving on now to bespoke support of the organisation’s Senior Management team
  • Created space for people to bring their ideas, explore and be creative – including in an NHS England and NHS Improvement ‘HIT – Histology Independent Therapies’ workshop
  • Recognised the value that the experience of work with Just Ideas has for our associates and interns over the years. We are now developing a project which will help us build on this proactive approach to supporting people starting out as freelancers or in careers in the social sector.

As we get in to 2022 and look back on 2021 we can see how Just Ideas has moved on in challenging and busy times – this is down to the commitment and dynamism of staff and Associates, the shared ethos and values that motivate and energise our work, and the enjoyment and satisfaction we share in the diverse projects we have been part of over the last 15 months.

View of North Yorkshire Moors

Taking inspiration from nature during 2021 – North Yorkshire Moors

We continue to make our work positively purposeful in our fifteenth year and will continue to work with clients who are tackling the social, economic and health inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. We hope that 2022 will continue to bring new opportunities to collaborate, consolidate existing relationships and build on the ways of working that have enabled us to grow and increase the impact of our work over the last two years. If you want to be part of that, please do get in touch.

Richard, Helen and Mary, the Just Ideas team.