How collaborating at a grassroots level is shaping the way we work

We’re excited to announce the winners of our second Small Grants Programme and reflect on how grassroots working is helping us to tackle  unfair health differences in our communities

Our communities are rich and diverse, and the cultural differences surrounding health and care means that each community has its own needs and challenges when it comes to being heard and understood. 

Small organisations tackling inequalities are unrecognised assets in our community. They are innovative and already working to sustain and strengthen their communities of interest. Often portrayed as passive groups waiting to be rescued or told what to do, they are in fact groups with capabilities, agency and knowledge. Our role at Healthwatch is to provide them with a channel to share their experiences of using existing health and social care services. 

From discussions, we know that they want to be part of conversations, working together to bring about improvements by strengthening relationships and understanding. It’s less about the NHS, councils or service providers designing a new approach or service and more about supporting what is already in place. 

How we’re connecting with more community groups 

Over the past two years collaborating with local groups has become more of an essential part of our work so that we can hear from people from a range of minority ethnic backgrounds and minority groups. 

Evaluating ‘genuine’ need is made possible when we join forces and work as a community, and people’s voices can be heard at a grassroots level. This is why we launched and continue to grow our Small Grants Programme.  

The initiative was born out of some initial research we carried out with our members and the BME Health Forum in 2018-19 after identifying a need for more engagement with ethnic minority groups and young people to better understand their experiences of health and social care services.  

This provided some really useful insights, but we wanted to reach a wider range of people living in different communities. We quickly realised that by partnering with small organisations and grassroots groups would enable us to achieve more focused engagement with people who are not currently included in conversations about health and care locally and started to think about opportunities to collaborate. With many small community groups lacking the funds and support to carry out research and engagement work, we identified that a small grants programme offering a package of funding and support would be the best approach. 

In 2020 we partnered with five grassroots community groups to help them capture their communities’ experiences of local health and care services during the COVID-19 pandemic. They used the funding and support in variety of ways: 

  • People who have had a stroke/ live with a neurological condition
    Local Exercise Groups for Stoke & Neuro Conditions (LEGS) 
  • Parents and carers of children with disabilities and complex needs
    Make it Happen
  • People living with a lung condition
    Breathe Easy Westminster (BEW) 
  • The French-speaking African community 
    French African Welfare Association 
  • Female asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants 


Sumita Ahmed – Engagement Lead:
“We found that these groups had difficulty accessing local health and social care services and the pandemic exacerbated this further, creating a lot of fear and uncertainty. Listening to their experiences and views has highlighted the ongoing challenges they face. Language barriers are often recognised as the main barrier and some of the more vulnerable groups we worked with during the pandemic were fearful of using local services in the event of picking up Covid-19. 

The majority of people we heard from were keen to see improvements in the way that local authorities and GPs engage with them, and to make more information available so they don’t have to rely on unreliable media sources. It is important that we continue to build and strengthen long-term relationships with different community groups to tackle the inequalities affecting these communities so that their views and experiences are used to shape the health and care support they need.”

Read about the findings and the testimonials from last year’s participants.

Small Grants Programme 2021: the winners

After running the programme throughout 2020, we began to see it as instrumental in tackling health inequalities as part of our ongoing commitment to equality, inclusion and diversity, so we decided to run it again, expanding our support to more local groups. 

We’re excited to announce that we will be working alongside another nine organisations this year and look forward to helping them to get their communities voices heard: 

  • Equal People Mencap
    Supporting people with learning disabilities
  • Sport4Health
    Local Filipinos. People living with disabilities. LGBT
  • Henry Dickens Court Estate Residents Association
    People living with disabilities
  • Midaye Somali Development Network
    Local Somali and Arabic speaking community
  • Hear Women
    Immigrant women from the Middle East and North/East Africa
  • African Women’s Care
    Survivors of domestic violence
  • Abdul Majeed Educational trust
    Arab and African community  
  • Biti Foundation 
    Sickle Cell sufferers (different ethnic minority groups)
  • Kulan Somali Development Network
    Somali and Baravanese – adults and the elderly 

How we will share the outcomes of this work

Reports and case studies will be shared far and wide so that decision-makers can understand the experiences of those facing inequality, understand the steps that could improve people’s lives, and then act on what has been learned.