Staff Hello and Update from Izzy, our Healthwatch Southwark Community Health Ambassadors Officer.
I work with Healthwatch Southwark and coordinate the Community Health Ambassadors Network.
Before working for Community Southwark, I volunteered for the Ambassadors Network, so it has been a great opportunity to continue to work on the programme. The Ambassadors Network is a community champions programme that was set up in November 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Marginalised communities were not getting accurate, up-to-date messages on COVID-19 guidance and prevention, so Ambassadors were recruited to help spread the right messages and give feedback on their communities. Ambassadors know the best way to reach their communities, so we shared accurate resources and let Ambassadors decide how to spread the information.
The champions programme was a way to build trust in Southwark communities and hear the barriers and needs community members were facing. During the vaccination rollout, Ambassadors played a huge role in having conversations on vaccine hesitancy and encouraging vaccine uptake in Southwark.
Currently, there are over 130 Health Ambassadors, who live or work in Southwark. A Community Health Ambassador can be anyone: a local resident, teacher, medical health professional, Councillor, and so on. We host monthly Network meetings with guest speakers from local services and Public Health and also offer a diverse range of free training courses. There is a newsletter with resources, local events, and Ambassador Network updates and a lively WhatsApp group chat.
As we have moved out of the pandemic, we are transitioning to cover local health issues and services. Mental health and the cost-of-living crisis are two of the top concerns for Ambassadors, so we are organising resources, training, and meetings on these topics. We also are working toward more face-to-face engagement as we all have become a little fatigued of online meetings. We are inviting Ambassadors to represent the programme at public events and be more engaged in their role as an Ambassador. We will also be supporting Ambassadors who want to develop specific projects on health topics in their community.
While I have only been in the role for 5 months, there is one piece of feedback I have heard repeatedly from Ambassadors. They don’t want community organisations and governance to fall back to the old ways before pandemic. The past two years organisations have relied on community members to help support, inform, and empower communities. The Ambassadors Network gave power to Ambassadors to develop the programme and tell us what works and what needs to change. I am excited to see how the programme develops and become a sustainable model for community empowerment in Southwark.
I want to thank my colleagues at Healthwatch Southwark, Community Southwark, and the Ambassadors for the warm welcome and open support. I’m looking forward to developing the programme and see how we can work together to reduce health inequalities in the borough.”
If you are interested in signing up to become a Community Health Ambassador, you can do so here