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Test and Learn grant funding for Health Anchors Learning Network (HALN) participants A funding programme for NHS anchor institutions who are HALN participants to enable them to progress and test anchor practice and generate new learning

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This programme is closed for applications.

  • The programme was for Health Anchors Learning Network (HALN) participants to test and embed anchor approaches and share new and valuable learning with the network.
  • Supported six projects with funding of up to £25,000 each between January and December 2022.
  • Projects had varied and positive impacts, including new toolkits and partnerships. Key learnings were generated via case studies on what it takes to get anchor work off the ground locally, which are freely available on the HALN website.

The Test and Learn grant funding programme was part of a two-year programme of work between the Health Foundation and NHS England to explore and enhance the role of the NHS as an ‘anchor institution’.

The programme also included the Health Anchors Learning Network (HALN), which launched in 2021 for participants to share and develop ideas, knowledge and skills, supporting them to implement anchor strategies in practice. 

Test and Learn grant funding was provided to six NHS anchor institutions who are participants of the HALN to make progress on their anchors work and test new approaches. This generated new and valuable learning for both HALN participants and the wider health and care system on what it takes to deliver anchor work in practice.

Anchor institutions are large public sector organisations which are rooted in place and connected to their communities, such as universities, local authorities, and hospitals. Anchors have significant assets and spending power and can consciously use these resources to benefit communities. 

For the NHS, this means the potential to make a make a far greater contribution to improve health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities, by enhancing their role as anchor institutions. 

The Health Foundation report Building healthier communities: The role of the NHS as an anchor institution showcases where NHS organisations are already implementing anchor practices and outlines opportunities for maximising the NHS’s contribution. 

About the programme

Six projects received up to £25,000 for projects that lasted between six and nine months. 
The projects focused on a wide range of anchor topics, including improving youth employment opportunities, encouraging social value procurement and developing an anchor framework for coastal communities.

This work led to several practical impacts and outputs, including: 

  • a social value toolkit for suppliers, developed by East London NHS Foundation Trust 
  • a ‘Foundation School in Health’ in Bassetlaw, to support students into health and social care careers
  • an interactive mapping tool identifying pre-employment opportunities for young people in mid and south Essex; 
  • a more diverse supply chain for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, including a wider pool of suppliers and more local small and medium sized enterprises 
  • a co-designed anchor framework for coastal communities by Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (due to be published in November 2023).

The projects in England were co-funded by the Health Foundation and NHS England. The projects in Scotland and Blackpool are funded by the Health Foundation.

Programme learning

1. Good partnership working and buy-in from stakeholders is essential

All projects found that commitment and buy-in from key stakeholders is critical to a successful anchor project. Excellent communication and engagement with local partners and the community ensured that projects were relevant, focused on the correct areas, and could share learning. Project teams identified and connected with people or organisations in the local area through drawing on existing relationships and, where relationships didn't already exist, the anchor project was a helpful way to leverage and mobilise new partnerships.

2.    Senior leadership support and commitment is a key enabler

Most projects cited senior leadership support as a key enabler of anchor work. Project teams found that commitment from senior members of their trust helped with engaging other teams leading to more effective working (eg communications). It also facilitated further buy-in from system leaders and those external to the organisation, which was invaluable to a project’s success (as above).
Read more about leading an anchor mission effectively in HALN’s learning tools and event recording on the role of leadership in anchor work.

3.    Good planning is key, while leaving space to adapt

Early engagement and planning with a clear timeline of activities was found to be important, particularly when engaging with stakeholders at the outset. However, project teams’ ability to be flexible, adaptive and responsive to emerging learning or barriers is crucial to successful anchor work. Most projects found that it takes time to do this work well, particularly building relationships needed for secure partnerships.

4.    It can often be challenging to find capacity and resource for anchor work 

All projects experienced challenges with recruitment or capacity in some form, often due to the fact it was difficult to recruit for a short-term post or due to capacity changes within the trust. However, all teams made it work in some way and found a range of solutions, from commissioning external support, to absorbing capacity within existing resource. 

5.    It takes time to fully understand the impact of anchor work

Early findings and outcomes have been shared on each project page below, but it takes time to fully realise the impact of anchor work, especially when the long-term aim is addressing health inequalities. Tools such as the Anchor Measurement Toolkit, developed by UCLPartners and supported by the Health Foundation, provides guidance and support to anchors to capture anchor activity and impact.

Tools and resources

Showcasing anchor case studies – event recording

Watch the recording where five Test and Learn teams speak about their projects and the learning generated.

Test and Learn case studies

Read more about each of the six projects below, including their individual case studies on the HALN website.

Join the HALN

Find out more about the Health Anchors Learning Network and become a participant.

Find out more


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