Healthwatch Camden was established to help keep a spotlight on local health services. Local Healthwatch is all about local voices being able to influence the delivery and design of local services.
In collaboration, with Camden council, VAC helped with the setup of Healthwatch, who now occupy premises with VAC. Healthwatch Director, Frances Hasler, and Community Engagement and Volunteer Coordinator Lead, Shelly Khan, talk about the support they’ve received from VAC and what it means being a tenant in the VAC building.
Francis: VAC were very helpful in our setting up because they advised on our corporate status and helped us to choose becoming a charitable incorporated organisation. In fact VAC managed that process in our behalf which made it very easy. Although organisational development is something I’m very familiar with so there were elements that VAC offers to other voluntary organisations that we didn’t need to use.
We also sublet from VAC and the great thing about having an organisation like ours is that we don’t have to worry about the nuts and bolts about keeping an office going. That’s all done. It’s very simple so we can just get here and just get into the job very quickly. So the infrastructure support VAC provides is really helpful for us.
Being in the building with VAC it was very important for us to be able to make contact with the right people, particularly in relation to health and HR. They were really, really helpful in pointing us in the right direction towards people to talk to, people in the community. I know north London very well but I don’t know the detail of people in Camden. Just saying, have you spoken to such-and-such, you should be in contact with so-and-so, is a very helpful thing.
And also working out the kinds of programmes that VAC is currently running, they were able to bring us up to speed about the kinds of projects running in Camden that we should be concerned with and we should know about.
In our early stages when we were developing our business plan we got help around the models of business plans. We were able to talk to people in the sector and weigh up if this would work for us.
The HR support we received was very helpful to us because we had to do everything from scratch, like design conditions of service and decide what should be our contract level. VAC had already advised me on the appropriate level of salary to be comparable to the voluntary sector in the borough, because these things vary.
So that was all in our first three months, a lot of help and support in set up. The other decision we took was to use VAC’s payroll service.
Q. For the payroll service did you weigh up any other options?
Francis: No, we got a quote and it seemed ever so reasonable to me because I’ve used other payroll services in the past. It was right here on the doorstep and what’s not to like really? It’s cheap as chips, I think we get really good value from that. If it wasn’t there we would have to outsource it, we couldn’t do it in house anyway. I don’t think we’d get it any cheaper. And we wouldn’t have that good facility of literally having someone around the corner who we can just go and have a chat to. I mean I know you can do it all over the email, but it’s really nice have that personal thing!
It means that I can feel confident that staff are getting the correct amount on the correct day. Thus far it has been absolutely wrinkle free. It’s always OK, it’s reliable, it’s quick. It feels quite personal and close by. It just takes that load of worry away. It’s well organised and you get the sense that it’s a system that has been well put together, well though through and properly resourced. The savings in manpower are significant. If we did it in house it would take eight times as long. In terms of savings in money, maybe we could get it for the same price if we shopped around but we’d have to spend a long time shopping around. I think we get it at an extraordinarily good price. Actually I don’t think we would get it cheaper elsewhere. So in terms of is this a very good very good value service, the answer is yes.
Q. What other services do you use from VAC?
Francis: We use the meeting rooms a lot. And what is really, really helpful is the VAC newsletter, We get loads out of that newsletter. For a start, current knowledge about what’s on the go across the borough, that’s really important to keep up. And also because VAC pulls out other stuff that is of interest to voluntary sector in general. I don’t spend a huge amount of time reading about the voluntary sector as opposed to specifically about health and care. So somebody else doing it for me, looking through all that for the stuff that’s interesting, that’s really, really helpful. We also use it as a medium for reaching out to people. To get our voice and message out to the wider voluntary sector. It comes out every Friday and it’s a first class resource. That has to be acknowledged as a real strength.
Shelly: The building is a sort of hub for the voluntary community sector. Around health and social care we have informal discussions all the time about meetings, new plans etc. A lot of the discussions are almost always work related, about networking and exchanging information, which is one of the great assets of being here – that networking ability.
Another thing that’s useful about being in this building is its location slap bang in the middle of Kentish Town. It’s in the middle of the borough, lots of people come and go, it’s easy to find. It just feels very central. And because lots of groups come in to VAC it certainly raised my awareness of the sorts of groups there are that we can talk to. We’ve managed to make direct contact with two of our target groups which was a deaf group and a parents group because they were in the building and we managed to nab them and say hello, do you want to come and talk with us later? And they did!
To find out more about the work of Healthwatch please visit their website at: www.healthwatchcamden.co.uk
You can find out more about VAC’s work on Health and Mental Health and how we engage with health and well-being strategy on our website. You can also find out more on our website about VAC’s organisational support services, including payroll.