Suffolk & North East Essex Integrated Care System

Community Conversations

         Community Conversations 

We recognise that as we move forward after Covid-19 that people, families and communities will have different challenges, perspectives and needs. in Spring 2021 we encouraged local organisations and networks to hold Community Conversations that brought together a broad range of teams, services and communities across Suffolk and North East Essex to share their ideas on ‘How do we heal from Covid 19?’ We asked each of the groups meeting together to identify five things that we need to take into account when we consider how we should heal, both reflections on the past and ideas for the future.

Click on the icons on the tree below to learn more about the five things identified by each of the Community Conversations. 

  • Vaccination uptake from younger people
  • Anxiety around re-entering society
  • Looking after our volunteers
  • Emergency Department admittance
  • Workforce burnout


  • Different people have had different experiences.
  • Many people are anxious about going out and about.
  • There are increased levels of anxiety and poor mental health.
  • Small support organisations are struggling to keep up with changing guidance.
  • Decreased physical activity in population – a concern for future population health.

  • People haven’t had the opportunity to figure out what services are there for them, particularly if they’re the mum. Their knowledge is lacking
  • Figuring out childcare for the first time as some go back to work is daunting and nerve wracking as they don’t know what to ask or what is good in a childcare setting etc.
  • Some mums feel they’re going from 0-60mph as in they’ve been home the whole time and now they’re going to be thrust back into the world of work with no introduction. Mums returning to work usually get a sower introduction including testing feelings around leaving the baby with someone else e.g. grandparents to get used to be away from their child.
  • No social networks for new mums as they haven’t been allowed out. Consequently, the usual mum friendship groups which develop haven’t so women are feeling incredibly isolated and lonely.
  • Some of the women said they don’t know what ‘normal’ is and don’t know how to get to it

  • Give children and young people a voice to understand what their experience has been and what they need to recover.
  • Lobby Children’s Minister for initiatives to get young people into work.
  • Learn from social historians: what the past teaches us about recovering from crises such as previous epidemics and war, and what can we put in place now.
  • Authentically embed wellbeing practices, including flexible working, into organisations.
  • Campaign for positive press: there has been so much focus on criticising and negatives – what about reporting good news

  • Children and young people need to be a focus post pandemic
  • Workforce wellbeing needs further nurture and care
  • Anxiety, hostility and poor behaviour has heightened, and work needs is needed in society around this
  • People are feeling disempowered for a variety of ways and more needs to be put in place to counter this
  • We need to encourage older and vulnerable people who may be scared to return to come back to services

  • Choice: Remote sessions have given survivors choices on how to engage; they could ease into accessing support, being able to “check in with themselves” and “dip their toe in the water”. Survivors could just ‘carry on, on auto pilot’, but the increased time and space in the pandemic meant in some cases their normal coping skills were removed, and there was no choice but to address and learn to manage the issues.
  • Awareness: Survivors felt more able to have open discussions around their trauma and around childhood sexual abuse and feel that this should be encouraged as the subject “still feels taboo”. ‘It is ok for things not to be ok’ is an important lesson and had enabled more conversations about mental health.
  • Accessibility: The survivors felt remote sessions were more accessible as they did not need to travel and allow extra time. Remote working had removed emotional and mental barriers, as well as practical ones, with some stating they would not have felt able to enter the building and so would have missed out on valuable support. Some survivors had felt unsure about using the technology but were reassured that the medium was useable and the support effective. We should remove physical barriers for people, and recognise the importance of support and reassurance online and highlight the effective work that has been done this way.
  • Safe space: The organisation was felt to be a safe space as the changes occurred. This is an important factor that influences their trust and engagement as we move forward and heal and manage these new changes. They also recognised the importance of their homes being a safe space, as they have had to be in them more regularly and use their homes for new functions. We should ensure people have a safe space in which to do therapeutic work, manage trauma and the changes of the community.
  • Connectivity: The pandemic has forced the community to increase connectivity. Many survivors experienced isolation during the lockdown and their engagement with support increased their motivation to take help when it is offered.

  • Working from home was a privilege, but work became very task oriented, we did not share our thoughts and feelings as we would normally do, including during our grieving.
  • We went into a ‘wartime’ mode at first, and our achievements were amazing, but people are now exhausted.
  • On reflection we are seeing how inequalities have become wider, which leaves a bitter taste.
  • During the crisis we felt we were all in it together, we were brave and took risks, but now the barriers are back up.
  • We need to keep the trust we had in staff, the spirit of collaboration and collective responsibility, and the focus on outcomes, not outputs.

  • The stress of carrying increased risk has impacted on people’s mental health, and they now need rest and recuperation.
  • We need to listen to the support staff need for their health and wellbeing, including continuing some form of flexible working, preventing isolation, and supporting their return to the workplace.
  • We need to show compassion, kindness, honesty and openness; we have a duty of candour to our patients and also to our workforce.
  • We have started to think differently about inequalities and we must keep up the momentum.
  • After Covid we need a new plan, building on what we have achieved.

logo Suffolk’s family carers’ concerns during Covid:
  • Emotional support needed
  • Hospital stays, communication and discharge
  • Exhaustion/lack of respite
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Concerns about vaccine

  • Our mental and physical health are inter-woven, with our sense of self make up our wellbeing … throughout every day our wellbeing is on a journey, rather like snakes and ladders… we can help to heal and thrive by strengthening the ladders and weakening the snakes.
  • Strengthening upward ladders … to have more ladders, no-value unless ‘visible’, welcoming and accessible, meaningful funding, removing barriers, supporting community spaces indoors and outdoors, helping people of all ages and across diversity to come together socially.
  • Weakening downward snakes … reducing their numbers and impact, to have support on the way down, making all offers of support highly visible and accessible, safe landings, with ladders there to step onto to help lift people up.
  • To heal and thrive, we need to meet needs, from the base of the triangle working upwards … best achieved together - at all levels …
  • Maslows Hierachy of Needs

  • Challenges with appropriate information around the vaccine and misinformation being more easily accessible
  • Access to culturally sensitive appointments with staff who understand fully around ethnicity and potential barriers this may cause. There is also a discussion point around the effectiveness and uptake of digital appointments with this in mind
  • Mental health challenges and lack of specialist services for minority communities leading to challenges with uptake of support
  • Challenges with transport and getting to appointments for vaccines
  • l Language and translation services not being sufficiently equipped or resourced often leading to disengagement from service

  • We have come together as a system, shoulder to shoulder to discuss challenges and opportunities in real time – “It has been an eye opener!”
  • We have built trust and confidence between service professionals at pace who wouldn’t ordinarily have worked together - “I have contacts now that are so valuable and I never knew they existed or what they did before!”
  • By keeping our contacts virtual we have enabled far greater participation – no longer are we spending our days in traffic jams in our individual cars. “We might not have been in the same room, but we have never been more on the same page”
  • As we move forward we need to keep a relentless focus on the wider determinants of health – keeping those issues of housing, employment and deprivation at the centre of our discussions.
  • Lets continue to learn – “we have been curious, questioning and supportive by working much more closely together to find solutions at pace”

  • Some people with Long Covid are feeling alone and isolated – wishes expressed for a local Long Covid peer support network.
  • People with Long Covid shared that they’re needing help with their emotional - mental health, as well as their physical health.
  • All GP’s need to be well informed about the valuable Long Covid Assessment Service offer, especially about the eligibility criteria and the referral process. People in the community need to be well informed about the Long Covid Assessment Service too.
  • In addition to statutory services, some local voluntary groups and services have valuable help and support to contribute. The need for Long Covid support shall expand for the foreseeable future and Services need access to the funding they require to respond quickly and effectively.
  • Local studies are underway asking people with Long Covid to share their experience, plus National Studies are happening and new ones launching. We need to pool this knowledge and the learning.

Click on ‘Community Conversation Events’ below to see the list of events.
Solma Ahmed
Bangladeshi Women’s Association

“Our community is already very, very isolated I’m afraid, and in Colchester and Tendring they are even more isolated than London or Birmingham. I have seen, and I have myself suffered from mental health issues. The challenge is how we reach out to those really hidden communities that have been disproportionately affected by Covid. We are getting out of it slowly. Physically we are surviving, mentally we are going to have long term issues.”

Bishop Martin Seeley,
Diocese of St Edmundsbury
and Ipswich

“Healing relates to medical, physical , mental, and spiritual but also to communities, relationships and the divisions and distinctions that have painfully and shockingly come to the fore: Divisions around wealth and poverty, race, age and disability – divisions brought into sharp focus by the virus. We have learned to recognise that globally we are in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat. As some pass by, apparently unaffected in their luxury yachts while others a grasping at a plank to stay afloat. Others started in what seemed like a seaworthy boat but the storm has been just too great. Healing is about individual and communal health and healing our divisions so that no one is left out as we move forward. We need to keep asking ‘How do we help everyone heal?’”

 Jon Neal and Ezra Hewing
Suffolk Mind

“Ironically what is stopping us as a system from adopting a shared vision of working towards meeting emotional needs across the system, is unmet emotional needs. When we feel that we don’t have control over things, when we feel stressed or overwhelmed by the challenges facing us it makes it difficult to learn. The only way we are going to solve problems is to learn our way out of it, which requires a long term commitment to learn something that is a complex idea not a quick fix – it isn’t a ‘just do this one thing’ and everything is solved. It is completely changing the way that we see health and wellbeing across the system and instead of focusing on symptoms, using a single technique or relying on medication – we all have needs that have to be met, but we have to have the environment, skills, services and resources to meet those needs. It’s everybody’s responsibility to make it happen.”

Ed Garratt, Executive Lead, Suffolk and North East Essex ICS

“The pandemic has created obvious damage and devastation, but it has also helped to heal our culture in many ways too. There has been a change in culture in the way that people now think about outcomes for the many and the few. There has been a big change, in particular in the health system, to seeing health more holistically. However, in truth we did not grasp the full seriousness and gravity of inequality. But there is reason to be hopeful, and to be confident. From an NHS perspective, in the last 15 months we have seen the end of the policy of competition and the proper launch of collaboration and co-production, and respectful communication between different partners. Our workforce is collaborating much more creatively between teams, organisations and sectors, and that will continue to develop. We have learned a lot from the voluntary sector’s agility, creativity and determination, and we support their spirit of positive collaboration, including through the digital agenda. Our communities are much more empowered, through the way that people have come together to support each other, the way the voluntary sector has stepped up, and the way that movements have come forward, such as the #whatarewemissing? movement in Ipswich and East Suffolk around listening to and supporting our local Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. I am proud that we have placed an emphasis on learning. The focus on mental health is now much stronger than before. While is crucial that we embrace the wider determinants of health, access to, and quality of healthcare services has never been more important.  The task we face is immense, but I am inspired by our leaders and their determination to recover properly over the coming years.”

Last Updated on November 18, 2021

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