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The Party Conference Journal Pt. 3 – #Lab15

This week was my first opportunity to spend an extended time at one of the major party conferences. What struck me most was how many people are passionately committed, not only to their party, but to grappling with the challenge of how to change our communities for the better. The many fringe events are a chance for a panel of political thinkers to set out their views on a certain topic, and then engage in debate with the audience. A cynic might say that this is just a talking shop, and in some cases that might be so – but this is also, partly, how policy is made: the presentation and interrogation of ideas, which are mulled over, researched, refined and which might eventually become reality.

So it was great to be present at some of these debates, particularly when the future of our health and care system was being discussed. In some cases it was clear that the voluntary sector’s role in the system was not front of mind for those outside the sector, even if they were health professionals – it was up to those in the room who worked in the sector to highlight what an important part it plays. It was also clear that where we can offer solutions, this is well received: in one session, I had the chance to talk about how the Faith Covenant can help faith-based organisations to get involved in commissioning. One of the great strengths of faith-based groups is their focus on what can be done to meet the needs we see around us and, in an environment where solutions are thin on the ground, this is valued.

The last session I attended was about the role of community in the future of the health and care system. This discussion was very encouraging because it highlighted what potential there is for faith groups to be making a real difference to people’s health. Adrian Sieff of The Health Foundation argued that, if we want to see health and well being, we need to look beyond the health and care system to communities. Rachael Maskell MP recognised that communities help to keep people well, and help stop them needing to be in hospitals. And Phillip Blond of thinktank ResPublica pointed out that one of the great cures for many conditions, including some mental health conditions, is other people. Seeing someone else who is just a little further than you down the road to recovery does wonders in giving a sense of hope that you, too, will get there. Show me a place where people are able to be honest about their struggles and inspire and encourage each other, and I’ll show you a faith community at its best.


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