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A vibrant network supporting anchors to take practical action on health Q&A with Rose Minshall, Innovation Unit

25 March 2024

About 4 mins to read

The Health Foundation supports the Health Anchors Learning Network (HALN) –​ ​a UK-wide network for people interested in anchor approaches in health.  

HALN was set up in 2021 and is delivered by Innovation Unit. In its first phase, the network has been supporting health organisations to learn about how they can use their resources and influence to improve health and reduce inequalities in their communities. The network is now expanding its support, inviting membership from local authorities and the private sector.

We spoke to Rose Minshall, Senior Innovation Consultant at Innovation Unit, about HALN’s impact so far, and how the next phase of work will open doors for a much broader range of organisations to improve health and wellbeing in their local communities.  

First things first, what do we mean by ‘anchor organisations’?

Anchors are large organisations – such as universities, local authorities, large community organisations, businesses and hospitals – whose long-term sustainability is tied to the wellbeing of the populations they serve. They are rooted in their place and connected to their communities.

Anchor organisations are important because they have significant assets as well as employment and spending power and can consciously use these resources to benefit their communities. There are many ways their actions can make a difference to people’s lives within the areas where they are based, for example by:  

  • widening access to quality work
  • using their spending power locally for social benefit
  • using buildings and spaces to support communities
  • reducing their environmental impact
  • working closely with local partners
  • listening and responding to what matters to the community.  

In practice this can lead to some really innovative projects. Like in Lambeth, where the GP Food Co-Op builds gardens in GP surgeries and NHS hospitals, providing the green space and opportunity for people to socialise, learn and grow food together. This not only helps to address social isolation and food insecurity, but the food is also distributed and sold to NHS staff and hospital caterers – making a valuable economic contribution.  

Or in Leeds, where the Leeds Health and Care Academy is working in partnership locally to provide attractive and progressive careers within disadvantaged or under-represented communities across the city.

What is the purpose of the Health Anchors Learning Network?  

We want to inspire anchor organisations to see what’s possible. HALN provides opportunities to learn, connect and collaborate with others to further the impact and reach of anchor approaches. We equip our members to implement strategies that will maximise the health, social, economic and environmental impact of their organisations to the benefit of their local community.  

The network is free and open to everyone, and we’ve found that our toolkits and resources have been used by a range of people. This includes people who work directly on anchor strategies in their role, as well as those working in recruitment, public health, procurement, estates and other roles.

W​​hat’s been achieved so far?  

In the first three years of HALN, we have co-designed and brought together a network of almost 1,800 people across the UK to connect and learn together. We’ve built momentum and deepened practice, sharing learning through our webinars, events, learning sets, blogs and case studies. As a result, HALN is now seen as a ‘one-stop shop’ for resources, ideas and best practice.  

Most importantly, we have provided spaces for people to inspire, reflect, and problem-solve together. As with any large-scale system change, the work that participants are doing can feel complex and challenging. We know that partnership and collaboration can help.  

An evaluation of our impact so far showed how participation in HALN has led to broadened networks (leading to increased access to funding for one organisation), generated confidence for participants to push ahead with initiatives, and helped people to reframe how they talked about anchors with senior leadership to enable buy-in.

​​​What do you see as the biggest priorities for the network?  

To date, our focus has been on the NHS. However, anchors encompass a whole range of organisations and sectors, including local authorities, community organisations, businesses, football clubs, faith organisations and many more. ​​

​​​​​Our priority now is to broaden the reach of HALN. In 2024 we’ll be delving deeper into how local authorities can increase their impact and launching a new learning set for people working in local government. We’ll also be helping businesses within the private sector understand the important role they can play in their local community.  

What action can people take now to improve the lives and health of people in their place through an anchors approach?

There are so many ways that organisations can start taking action, from adopting workforce strategies that intentionally nurture skills for local young people, to relatively low-cost interventions like planting free trees in the grounds of local NHS Trusts. We understand it can be difficult to know where to start so we’ve set out some first steps in our case studies and blogs.  

We’re also really excited to have recently launched HALN Learning Pathways – a free online learning programme designed to drive anchor approaches that intentionally tackle inequalities and drive social value in a place. The five modules bring together the wealth of learning generated by HALN, providing practical tools for people to use and adapt for their organisation.

How can I get involved in the network?

It's easy and free to join HALN, and you can get involved in our work by attending and contributing to events, sharing learning through blogs and case studies, and sharing ideas and topics that are important for HALN to focus on. Get in touch to learn more about how you can contribute.

Next steps:

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