In this end of year Blog, we reflect on working with people and communities in 2021 and how we were able to help them make a difference.


Communities responding to Covid-19 research


We are part of Local Trust’s Communities Responding to Covid-19 research project alongside a wider team, convened by University of Birmingham Third Sector Research Centre, who are conducting research in 26 communities in England. This research involves working to capture responses to Covid in these communities. We have been leading on fieldwork with Big Local Conniburrow as well as contributing to various briefings, analysis, and a workshop. We were especially proud to co-author a research briefing on Sustaining Community Action with our colleagues Angus McCabe and Angela Ellis-Paine, which can be viewed on Local Trust’s website.


Aspirations Mentoring Education Project Evaluation


The Aspirations project of the Bolton Lads and Girls Club is for looked after children aged 8-15 to provide one to one mentoring. It aimed to improve the confidence and relationships for young people to then support them to increase their aspirations and engage in education, employment or training.
The Club was now looking to evaluate the project and we supported them in making sense of the data and how this project made a difference to the young people.

Not surprisingly, the biggest driver of change was positive, asset-building approach, in which young people were actively listened to, recognised for their talents and achievements, and encouraged, helped to empower young people and shape their relationships with their mentors. The mentors played a complementary role, acting as a bridge between young people and professionals due to their unique relationship with their mentees, leading to effective partnership working.

“When talking to people now, I feel equal to them and don’t worry about what they may know or who they are.” Young person


Somers Town Big Local Plan


Somers Town Big Local were looking to develop their next plan to help them plan what changes they want to make in the local area that will benefit local residents.The area developed their next Big Local Plan through a community consultation. Working with a brilliant team of local community researchers, over 200 people in the community were engaged and able to share their concerns, needs, and dreams for Somers Town’s future. Somers Town Big Local is now getting ready for the delivery of their exciting new Plan, focused on bringing the community together to celebrate and create local opportunities.


Community Conversations


Engage Britain is a charity who’s first major campaign is called Health and Care where they looked at what really matter to people about Health and Care in order to come up with suggestions for making change and bring these to the decision makers to enable them to influence future policies.
Our role (in partnership with Just Ideas) was to conduct 100 Community Conversations with people across the breath of Britain. In total, 715 individuals took part in the Conversations that were hosted by 76 different hosts. 74% of individuals who took part in the Conversations did so for the first time and we were humbled by the trust they have given to us and the project as their stories were very personal and often painful..
As this engagement took place in the middle of a pandemic, they took place on Zoom. This resulted in the analyst team having an incredible amount of rich data, arguably much more we could ever collect if these conversations were done face to face. We feel privileged to have been allowed to be there and listen to people’s experiences. Thank you to all our hosts and participants for making this such a special experience.


Measuring Change SO18


SO 18 Big Local with their project So: Let’s Connect are making a real difference to their community by improving digital inclusion, building confidence and address loneliness (especially during the pandemic) through this programme where they provide individual with IT equipment, internet connectivity and support and training through the network of volunteer digital connectors. To see what impact they have been making, please see this video.
We helped SO18 to come up with an evaluation strategy so they can really measure the change they have achieved through the scheme and show the difference they have made. This involved helping them to analyse data they connected so they could see the impact of SO: Let’s Connect as well as apply measuring change to other projects they are running.

“Before, I often felt lonely. But I don’t now, as I can study, do activities and connect regularly with people online.” Project participant


NHS 10 Steps for Better Participation training


The 10 Steps for better participation training course offered by the NHS England and Improvement Public Participation Team (tag @NHSCitizen) is a one day practical course that allows NHS staff who work in public engagement roles to really get stuck into discussing how to work with people and communities to ensure that they are at the heart of the planning, design, implementation and review of all health services. The participants of this course come away having learnt 10 clear steps for public engagement and with a detailed plan for any current project they offer up for discussion. The steps include, from setting outcomes all they way to evaluation and knowing what impact their project would have.
This course increases the understanding of participation and engagement in relation to health inequalities and looks at strategies to build inclusion of communities.
We simply love running and facilitating this course in partnership with our colleagues at @JustIdeas. It is both practical in nature but it also touches on supporting people and communities to influence which is an issue embedded in our values and very close to our hearts.
This course is delivered by a core training team alongside an experienced group of Patient and Public Voice (PPV) partners who form a peer training team. The peer trainers bring the valuable perspective of having lived experience and having been involved in wide ranging PPV roles in different parts of the health system.


Community Champions Programme


The Greenwich Community Champions programme is an initiative set up by the Royal borough of Greenwich (with key partners including the Clinical Commissioning Group and local community and voluntary groups) to enable people to help their families, friends and wider community make sense of the latest advice and information about Covid-19. It works intensively, with seven local areas in Greenwich, building a group of community champions in each. On a local level there has been allocation of small grants through participatory budgeting alongside other activities led by champions. In addition to the hyper local there are also borough wide community champions. It also looks to work with communities of interest and in partnership develop some shared ideas around community champion interventions to support specific communities. Finally it is working around digital inclusion including setting up a library of devices.
This initiative ran from June 2020 and we are lucky enough to now be involved in the programme evaluation We will be working alongside community researchers to assess the effectiveness of the programme and understand what has changed or made a difference. This will include reflecting on success as well as challenges and helping the partners involved explore how they can build on the learning.


London Learning Cluster


The London Learning Cluster (LLC) is a learning & support network for the 26 Big Local areas based in London. We are fortunate to work with Sian Penner in the development and facilitation of the cluster in line with the areas that the 26 London communities want to discus and share. In 2021, two events were held focussing on how Big Local areas supported their communities during the pandemic. During these events eight areas presented case studies on the projects they ran to engage their local area. Some of the projects included a project in Noel Park providing bikes for key workers; a doorstep carnival in William Morris; bath bomb making packs in Hanwell and a voucher scheme in South Bermondsey. All these ideas were discussed and very much motivated other communities to also think about their own ideas and share from their own experience. Well done to all 26 London Big Local areas for really supporting their communities during the pandemic and for the wide range of innovative ideas and projects at a difficult time!


Maternal Mental Health Alliance


The Everyone’s Business Campaign of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance calls for all women and families throughout the UK who experience a perinatal mental illness to receive the care they and their families need, wherever and whenever they need it. The campaign recognises that 1 in 10 women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby, and the effect if this is untreated or undiagnosed. It also works around the postcode lottery, with maps showing the progress following funding pledged in each nation. But there is still patchy provision of services, so there remains more work to do to reach full parity.

As evaluation partners we were very privileged to be part of the Alliance and its campaign journey, and to witness how it grew from strength to strength. We’ll be watching eagerly how the campaign develops further and improves the lives of women and families.


Measuring Change BB&B


Beechwood, Ballantyne & Bidston Village Big Local (BB&BV) area wanted to identify the ways to evidence and share the difference they are making to local people. Through a series of workshops, we supported them to form a theory of change that will help to support them to think about a framework for measuring change. BB & BV identified five categories they want to concentrate on, which are:

  • improving mental wellbeing
  • enabling young people to thrive
  • improving the local physical environment
  • meeting immediate needs
  • gaining skills and employment
  • At the workshops we facilitated discussions to help the partnership identify the indicators of change and the changes they wish to see in each category. We are looking forward to seeing how this helps going forward and doing more work hope this support acts as a catalyst to measure the changes made to date and benefit future planning.


    NHS Patient and Public Voice training


    The NHS England and Improvement Public Participation team supports the skills and knowledge of their Patient and Public Voice (PPV) partners by offering a range of training. A key part of this programme is through a two day interactive Influence and Impact training course. The beautiful thing about this course is that it brings together PPV partners from various geographical locations and in varied roles giving them the space to learn more about the health system, PPV roles and responsibilities and the importance of the PPV voice. Participants have the opportunity to connect with others and often leave the course with a stronger voice to advocate for the changes in the areas of healthcare they are involved in. Along with Just Ideas we co- facilitate the course and ensure that the participants get the most of out the two days, as well as ensuring that the learning stays up to date and relevant.


    “I used to feel rather junior to other long-serving patient partners. I realise now that my voice is just as valid and also perhaps more current and relevant.” Course participant



    Team away day


    Z2K is a charity that believes no individual in the UK should be living in poverty and that adequate, stable income and housing are key to creating a more equal society where everyone has the chance of a stable and dignified life.
    We worked alongside the Z2K team to support them to take space to reflect on their work together whilst also building on the values that all members have around the important work that Z2K is doing both in terms of case work but also at a policy level. You can read more about the great work Z2K are doing here.

    Reflections on WSA training courses


    Ten people from a range of organisations including local authorities and healthwatch as well as more local charities attended our Understanding Community Development on 16 November, 2021. All brought their skills and experience to learn about and share good practice and we were very happy to facilitate and support participants to deepen their understanding of community development theory and practice into their roles.

    The content included exploring the values and principles of community development as well as looking at what we do in practice and the changes we hope to make. Thank you to all for their enthusiastic participation, and to our partner Paul Bragman from Community Regen for co-facilitated with our team! To find out more, head over to our training page

    “Learning the theory behind community development really helps you think about how you will work in practice.”Course participant



    Grenfell Project Fund Resident Led Panel


    The Grenfell Projects Fund was set up after the Grenfell fire to support new and existing community organisations to provide wellbeing and support to the communities recovery. Following residents’ feedback that they wanted to ensure that there was very clear resident control and influence in the process going forward, we have been working with the Resident Led Panel.

    The panel members are passionate and bring a wealth of experience of what their area needs to aid recovery. Our approach is around co-designing the whole grant application process with the Resident’s Panel leading. We are committed to ensuring that the Resident’s Panel co-produces all aspects of the grants’ design and delivery. As a group the residents have been working so hard to design this process and make sure it is community led. Well done on work so far and looking forward to working with you on the roll out from January!


    Crick Patient Advisory Group – Outwitting Cancer exhibition


    The Crick Patient Advisory Panel (PAP) are an amazing group of people who fed into every aspect of the current public exhibition at the Crick. The PAP members all have lived experience of cancer either personally or in caring for a family member.

    The PAP members were involved in commenting on the design to the marketing to the language used in the exhibits. A huge aspect of the co-design was the work on the ‘Oncozine’, which accompanies the exhibition. This was co-produced by the PAP members and scientists and is a brilliant resource.

    The exhibition is the first of its kind in the UK, and the PAP were fundamental to how the exhibition was shaped and curated. We were really privileged to facilitate the PAP and support the PAP members to have a strong voice and really influence the exhibition.

    It was brilliant seeing everyone again at the opening in September (especially given the last time we had all seen each other – outside of zoom – was before the pandemic!).


    Little did I know that I’d get to meet all these amazing people, and I never felt better than when I came out of a PAP session.” .PAP Member

    The exhibition ‘Outwitting Cancer’ is now open and is free to access so do go along and see it if you can.


    Tim is the Project Support and Research Officer at WSA Community Consultants. In this Blog, Tim reflects on working with Francis Crick Institute and the importance of co-production.

    Working with the Crick on the UK’s first exhibition exploring cancer research


    Over the last year, we have enjoyed working with The Francis Crick Institute, commonly known as the Crick, to support their first Patient Advisory Panel (PAP) as part of the UK’s first exhibition exploring cancer research, ‘Outwitting Cancer’. ‘Outwitting Cancer’ was due to open at the Crick in September 2020 but has been delayed due to Covid-19 so will open at some point in 2021.

    All the PAP members have a lived experience of cancer in some form, whether they are living with cancer themselves, have cared or are caring for someone with cancer or both. The PAP has used this lived experience to directly contribute to, influence and feed into the development of the ‘Outwitting Cancer’ exhibition.

    We wanted to share our experience of working with the Crick to support the PAP as it is such an interesting and important project.

    Why the Crick engaged their first Patient Advisory Panel 

    The Crick has been running a temporary free public exhibition for several years 2019’s exhibition Craft and Graft looked at the day to day work of scientists at the Crick. For the 2020 exhibition on cancer, Outwitting Cancer, the Crick’s public engagement team felt that it was important to co-produce it with those who have had an experience of cancer, seeing as the experiences can be hugely varied and are intensely personal. 


    It has long been an aspiration at the Crick to work with patients to better understand the lived experience of some of the diseases that we work on at the institute, and our forthcoming Cancer season provided the perfect opportunity to do this.Crick Team Member

    The PAP’s exhibition developments 

    We were lucky enough to be the Crick’s partners for the PAP bringing our experience of patient voice. We facilitated 8 workshops, supporting the PAP to see, discuss and develop different aspects of the exhibition content and planning. The PAP’s views were listened to by the Crick team, the exhibition curator, those involved in design and marketing and taken on board to influence all aspects of the exhibition.

    Our work with the Crick started in February 2019, where we looked to recruit 15 PAP members. We had a really strong response and found the most challenging part was working with the Crick team to narrow down the applicants to create the final group. We invited successful applicants to take part and everyone accepted. Our first workshops took place shortly thereafter in April 2019.

    Developing the right language for the exhibition

    The PAP’s role was to look at different aspects of the exhibition, this included the marketing around the exhibition, design and importantly, the content. A key area in which the PAP made an impact on the content is through the use of language and the tone of the language used in the exhibition. 

    I have felt valued and appreciated by the process which has felt very empowering.PAP Member

    Initially, some of the language used words like ’fighting’ or ‘invasion’, which some members of the PAP felt could be upsetting, especially for those who are living with cancer. This feedback was taken on and the curator listened to the PAP to develop a language guide and updating the themes of the exhibition to reflect this.

    On reflection, our experience of working with the PAP cemented why co-production is so vital. We learnt that for those who have a limited experience of cancer, it was not necessarily obvious that some language could be emotive, but the PAP picked it up very quickly.

    Creating reflection areas and collaborative Zines

    The Crick’s team had been considering how to manage the emotive potential of the exhibition and so the Crick’s team decided to include a ‘Decompression area’. Their idea was that the area would be used at the end of the exhibition where visitors can reflect on their experience. 

    Part of this decompression area was to have a ‘Zine’ or self-published magazines. Here visitors could read the Zine, all related to cancer or the exhibition in some way, and the visitors could add their thoughts. Visitors would also be invited to take a Zine away with them. To ensure that the Zine was impactful, the PAP helped develop content for the Zine through a dedicated workshop with a Zine facilitator which also included Crick scientists in order to maximise co-production. This was a really constructive session where the PAP created their Zines as well as feeding into the content of the exhibition Zine. 

    A personal highlight from the PAP

    I enjoyed the whole experience of working with the PAP but a personal highlight for me was the Science on Screen event, where a cancer-related film was shown, and the PAP members led discussion groups with attendees.

    The PAP co-designed and co-produced the whole event. This started with them choosing the film, with PAP members nominating several films which were then shortlisted to 3. The PAP members went away and watched the films and finally selected ‘A Monster Calls’ as they felt it was an emotionally stirring film that had beautiful cinematography and dealt with cancer engagingly and respectfully, a difficult balance to strike. During the evening, the PAP helped with registration, led discussion groups and other participatory activities like the wishing tree. 


    Being part in the PAP has enabled me to take something positive from my cancer experience and to hope that I can make a small difference to people’s perception of cancer.PAP Member 

    The Crick’s team worked hard to feedback how they have been using the ideas sourced from the PAP, so getting the opportunity to see the actual results of the PAP’s work at the Science on Screen event was particularly rewarding for me.

    The Outwitting Cancer exhibition will now take place in 2021

    The last official meeting of the PAP took place on the 4th March 2020 with the exhibition due to open in September 2020. As a result of COVID-19 crisis, the opening has been delayed until 2021. Despite this, we have kept in contact with the PAP member and we are looking forward to meeting them all, virtually, in September. 

    It is so important that this process is meaningful and respectful, and Wendy and Tim’s expert and sensitive coordination of the Panel, and facilitation of the sessions, has been invaluable in achieving this. I have found it very powerful to hear the Panel members’ personal stories and gain an appreciation of the diversity of their experiences and viewpoints.Crick Team Member


    Vicky is the Evaluation and Training Manager WSA Community Consultants. In this Blog, Vicky reflects on taking the time to join the Community development Thinkery in the summer and consider her own practice.

    Reflecting on our Practice – Listening, understanding and acting

    It’s that time of year again and in writing our annual report we’ve had the chance to look back through the work we’ve been doing and reflect on our practice.

    Whilst the past few months have gone in a flash in the summer I was able to join the Community Development Journal Thinkery. This was an event to bring together people from across the world to discuss the role and place of community development and community organizing in our world today. This opportunity came at a thought-provoking time for me, just beginning to return to work after taking maternity leave and provided an opportunity to reconsider and reinforce the impacts that our values make on how we work and the outcomes we aim for.

    We considered the context we’re working within, the interesting times we live in but the opportunities this creates as well as risks. This struck a cord, bringing up the work by George Lakey, the sociologist, writer and activist whose unfaltering optimism is that times like this have the most opportunity for positive change and creating new equality. Whilst there are great risks (and a general feeling of gloom at times) we do ourselves a disservice to solely focus on these instead of considering the opportunities. This fits with much of our work, when we work with communities in flux or charities who have sudden opportunities there are inherent risks but also spaces for change open up. This year we have continued to see this with groups that we work with who have pushed barriers and made new ground.

    Whilst this optimism was not felt by all during the Thinkery there was a discussion of the importance of conversations and the place that community development has for providing a framework and supporting some of these conversations to take place. These conversations are often fraught, this conflict is difficult but can be productive rather than divisive. We recognized that there are tools within community organizing to work with and express the emotion involved in these situations.

    This theme of conversations continued during Pushpesh Kumar’s session later on in the day. His work has focused on Queer movements in Hyderabad and emphasized the importance of considering who was at the table for a conversation to take place. The importance of shaping a narrative and who we are allowing to do this is a key issue within all of our work and can be seen from discussions on who is on a steering group to who is interviewed for an evaluation.

    One of our final speakers at the Thinkery was Adam Fletcher, who emphasized that all of our work is based in who we are. He used his work on the relations between young people and adults to discuss the power dynamics that often exist within our work. Differentiating between the ways of acting as; apathy (where there is no engagement or activity), pity (doing to a group with no engagement), sympathy (doing things for but with little engagement), empathy (working with people and where each acknowledges the other as a partner) but finally solidarity where it’s impossible to separate out the wants and needs of the two groups (you can see more at ).

    In the discussions that followed we recognized that whilst solidarity is a lofty aim it is not always possible and that this should be recognised so that we do not aim to claim false solidarity. We all know the cringing nature of seeing someone who’s life experience is very different claim to understand someone’s experience simply because they were poorer for a summer once many years ago. There is instead a value of noting that you don’t have the knowledge but should instead listen to the person who does.

    Several months have passed since the Thinkery which has left a great many thoughts echoing about what we aim to do within our work. This thinking has reinforced my practice, always wishing to work with those who commission us whilst recognising that ultimately the knowledge for change lays within the communities themselves if only we start those conversations, join the dots and take the chance to really listen.


    Wendy is the Director of WSA Community Consultants with a background in youth and community work prior to that. Wendy recently returned from a trip from Geneva where in partnership with a colleague from Just Ideas she delivered a training the trainers’ course for people living with non-communicable diseases for the NCD Alliance.

    Lived Experience Driving Change – The NCD Alliance: Our Views, Our Voices

    There is a Ghanaian saying thatone broom can be easily broken but a group of brooms together is hard to break.’. This was shared with us by Chris K, an advocate for Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) from Ghana as part of the Our Views, Our Voice training, the course was held in Geneva for people living with NCDs from 11 countries across the globe. The course participants comprised of two people living with NCDs from each country or region and one national or regional alliance member who would be part of the training team once back in their native country.

    Along with Helen Garforth from Just Ideas, I was privileged enough to co-facilitate this fantastic and inspiring group of people for the NCD Alliance as part of their Our Views, Our Voices initiative.

    Last year, Helen and I facilitated the workshop in Geneva for 23 people living with NCDs, training people in public narrative and mobilising communities who then went back to their countries and were involved in the NCD movement there. This year, the three-day programme focused on rolling out the skills learnt through training people to become trainers so they could go back to their countries and mobilise their communities.

    Non Communicable Diseases include a whole range of conditions. The five most common conditions are cancer, diabetes, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), heart disease and mental health, but there are many other conditions that are also non-communicable. They affect populations globally more than other conditions but yet have a pitiful investment which is an area the NCD Alliance is addressing and challenging on a global basis.

    Our lovely group spanned 11 countries, with six country Alliances – Ghana, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico and Sri Lanka and 2 regional Alliances – Eastern Mediterranean and the Healthy Caribbean Coalition. What was wonderful to see over the course was the strength that the group got from being together which made Chris K’s saying one of the mantras of the three days. As Haruko from Japan said:

    ‘Super empowered and energetic training. I was alone when I was diagnosed, but NOW I have company to live with. Our story has power to change the world.’

    The honest sharing of lived experience was really striking. This included being stigmatised, not having a voice and feelings of being alone. Some of our group had been very alone and the fact that they were now helping others and working with their national alliances to advocate for change was not necessarily something they could’ve imagined being their story. We looked at the power of public narrative and used the Marshall Gantz theory to help the group think of their stories of self, us and now. This is explored in much more depth in the NCD Alliance’s publication on meaningful involvement (see here).

    A lovely example of someone whose confidence grew over the few days was Jude from Sri Lanka. On the first day, Jude was very shy and didn’t want to talk in English to the group – he said he could understand English but wasn’t confident enough to speak it.  By day three he was sharing his story in English and led a great energiser for the whole group with some cool dance moves to ‘I like to move it, move it’! Jude is a young man with diabetes who felt excluded and alone when diagnosed as a child. He is now a leader of youth camps for other young people with diabetes and a role model. Jude also recognises the economic challenges people with NCDs often face if they are not able to work or have to balance caring for their condition with earning a living. He strongly supports young people with NCDs to develop their skills and help them to think about how to make a living. You can check out Jude’s woodwork business here.

    What was lovely to see was the way the group came to know and care about each other in a very short time. The commonalities they found were amazing to see despite coming from very different countries and contexts and having a range of conditions. One exercise we enjoyed was using At My Best cards (which were very kindly discounted by the lovely people at  (At My Best). Using the cards we asked the group to work in pairs to share their stories and pull out key strengths both for themselves and their partner. The strength identified helped to reflect on the skills used to mobilise communities and drive change. This was hugely effective and helped some of the group reach another level of understanding.

    I arrived home from Geneva feeling driven to support the 22 participants to be the best trainers they can be in their countries. Their passion, positivity and energy were a real gift to me over our three days together and each person made a massive contribution to the group. I feel lucky to have been given the chance to support this group and along with Helen, we will now see them returning to run training in their home countries. Working with the NCD Alliance, we will continue to support them and check-in through webinars and the sharing of the in-country evaluations.

    There is synergy through much of our work as we often support communities to share lived experience; it is a key-value and part of our ethos here at WSA Community Consultants. It has also been a strong focus of our work on health and we are lucky enough to be working with a number of recognised organisations such as NHS England and the Francis Crick Institute, supporting them in delivering training around lived experience and Patient and Public Voice. Our more generic community work also looks to build on personal stories and lived experience, focussing on the assets and skills of individuals to achieve change.

    Wendy Sugarman

    Managing Director – WSA Community Consultants


    Thanks to Helen Garforth from Just Ideas for fantastic collaborative work; Dr Cristina Perez-Parsons, Manjusha Chatterjee and Luis Encarnacion the Capacity Development team from the NCD Alliance; our wonderful participants who we learnt so much from – Francis, Jaime and Patricio from Mexico; Rana from Lebanon, Enas from Eqypt; Chitrika, Thamilini and Jude from Sri Lanka, Yuko, Haruka and Hitoshi from Japan; Seema, Prachi and Jyotsna from India; Chris and Labram from Ghana; Jenna from Barbados, Diana from Guyana and Asha from Trinidad; Beatrice, Foulata and Patrick from Kenya.