Sam Davies

Time to breathe

Having reached peak madness with the government’s ‘250,000 houses’ announcement last week, it feels like it’s time for a break – but not without setting you some homework for the summer …

This is my last blog before the summer break. It feels like we reached peak madness with last week’s ‘250,000 houses’ announcement by central government, and the spectrum of responses ranging variously from bemused to outraged from the leaders of the City Council, South Cambs District Council, the Combined Authority, plus the – Conservative – MP for South Cambs. To put that number in context, it would require building 40 houses a day, every day, till 2040. It is a literally incredible proposal.

We shall see what further detail emerges over the next few weeks, assuming there is some detail behind the newspaper headline, but it’s no way to run a city. Or a government for that matter. And how it is in any way consistent with the missions in 2022’s Levelling Up White Paper, with its references to ‘engaged’ local communities and ’empowered’ local leaders is a mystery: “The UK Government will begin work with partners in local government and civil society on a programme to put in place a bold new approach to community empowerment” (p215). A year is indeed a long time in politics!

So it feels like it’s the right time to take a breather. But to tide you over the summer, I’ve got some suggestions of reading materials you might find interesting:

plus I’m going to repeat the links I signposted last summer because they seem more relevant than ever:

Food for thought.

Sam Davies


  • Don’t forget, they can’t just be any old houses, they acknowledge our need for beauty– which typically takes a bit longer to provide.

  • Your link to the ‘Conversations with residents’ survey took me down an internet wormhole to a previous exercise carried out in the run up to the 1991 Cambridge Local Plan – where a similar exercise was carried out in conjunction with local newspapers. I found digitised copies of some of the newspaper articles and have highlighted what a previous generation thought about Cambridge’s problems of the day. Really striking comparisons – especially on things where Cambridge ended up getting the complete opposite of what residents asked for!

  • Time to take a well deserved break, enjoy.
    Thank you for the extensive and yet again useful reading list, helps gain an insight into the macro issues of Cambridge rather than just things in my backyard Steve

  • Thank you Sam for your weekly updates. You are just the type of Councillor every person needs. You make us aware of all that would remain hidden by design. I will do some homework! Again thank you. May the summer break bring blessing to you.

  • Sam. I didn’t succeed in opening up ‘Conversations with Residents’ and will be keep on trying. But in my experience, few, if any, councils know little or nothing about community development theory and practice. Although in Manchester, Leeds and elsewhere working with, but not for, people on the receiving ends of service is perhaps better understood…. See below. Peter Durrant. (A resident at Warburton House which, also fails to understand the essentiality of camaradie.).

    NHS at 75: why the workforce plan should start with communities
    July 5, 2023 Laura Charlesworth

    Building a community-powered NHS is urgently needed to overcome the current and future challenges facing the system. On the 75th anniversary of our much-loved health service, Laura Charlesworth delves into an innovative model of healthcare that puts community connection first.

    As the NHS turns 75, we’re digesting the much-anticipated Long Term Workforce Plan. Alongside the three priority areas of Train, Retain and Reform, there are 90 references to community. From community pharmacy to community diagnostic hubs, there is clear emphasis on scaling up NHS care delivered in the community.

    While these are steps in the right direction, what’s missing is scaling of NHS care with the community or better still, enabling healthy lives with the community.

    While the plan acknowledges the importance of a more preventative approach and references the need for more flexible and generalist workforce to enable this, the role of communities in prevention and early intervention is overlooked, yet we know this works.

    Earlier this year we launched a call for evidence for a forthcoming report on community centred approaches to health. Among the many brilliant examples shared were several initiatives championing the Community Connector model. Delivered by communities, for communities, this model focuses on what matters to a person, not what the matter is with them.

    Recognising that people are best placed to make decisions about their own lives and that communities have assets that can enable positive change, this approach is gaining traction, from the well-established Local Area Coordination Network to smaller scale pilot projects.

    Here are three powerful examples of place-based initiatives bridging the gap between services and communities.

    Leeds neighbourhood networks
    The Leeds Neighbourhood Network comprises 37 voluntary organisations across the city working with members and volunteers to improve health and wellbeing. Through a range of activities like advice and information, help around the home, and healthy living activities, the network promotes community participation, social connection and healthy ageing at a local level. In a recent evaluation, the network’s innovative approach was shown to address three stages of healthy ageing:

    Preventing ill health through community-based activities and support, helping people to manage long-term conditions
    Delaying illness severity and maintaining a good quality of life, as well as easing the demand on health and social care services
    Reducing demand pressures on healthcare providers by assisting individuals with significant support needs, including frail older people or those with chronic or multiple conditions such as dementia or cancer
    North Central London ICS
    In line with the Core20PLUS5 agenda to reduce health inequalities, people in North Central London with influence in their community are helping other residents engage with health services. These ‘Community Connectors’ offer health checks and link local people into self-management support. Offering unique insight into the barriers people living in their communities’ face, connectors enable excluded communities to have a stronger voice and are ideally placed to advise local NHS services on how these can be overcome and what makes a good service.

    Involve Northwest/Wirral Council
    In the Wirral, a Community Connector programme draws on asset-based community development (ABCD) principles and behaviour change principles to address health and wellbeing locally. The Community Connectors are commissioned by the Public Health team at Wirral Council and are employed by a third sector partner, Involve Northwest. Connectors serve as the missing link between residents and public services and identify what support is needed for people to move forward and achieve their aspirations. To do this, they visit people at home or in a place of their choosing and offer support around specific challenges, goal setting and signposting to activities and services. More than 5,000 people in the Wirral are taking part in the programme.

    As the grid below shows, these approaches benefit people, communities and the health and care system, leading to reduced GP appointments, lower A&E attendance and less demand for a range of other services that are under pressure.

    This evidence is collated from the Local Area Coordination Network and the three examples shared above.
    While the beginnings of a new community paradigm are emerging that hold promise for the future of the NHS, the value of working with communities for good health and wellbeing is absent from the workforce plan. Perpetuating a deficit-led approach, the plan presents the system as a vehicle for treating illness rather than preventing it and enabling good health.

    In doing so, it misses what many in the NHS have already grasped. From North London to the Wirral, it’s clear that investing in communities can provide solutions to some of our biggest health and care challenges. The training and retention of staff and the reform of how they practice are necessary steps to ensuring the NHS survives to its centenary. But opening its doors to the talents, energies and insights of communities, are what we need for the institution – and its staff – to thrive.

    Commissioning and Procurement • Community Power • Health and social care • Public Health • The NHS

  • Thanks for the summer reading options, Sam. I welcome your title and invitation of Take a Breather. It’s what we all need, and I wish you a hard earned break from your excellent campaigning and keeping us informed of the truth.

  • Sam, I hope you have a relaxing and certainly well-deserved break. Thank you for all you do not only to keep the local community up-to-date but also to provide the background references to put it all in some sort of context.