Historic signing heralds the start of a united new approach to support the health and wellbeing of people in Somerset.

Last Thursday, leaders from the voluntary sector, NHS and Somerset Council, gathered in Taunton to sign an historic document outlining a shared vision and commitment to work more closely together to achieve better health and wellbeing for the people of Somerset.

The event, attended by over 60 representatives from the county’s charities, NHS and Somerset Council, was the first time that leaders have come together at such scale, to demonstrate their shared commitment to working together.

The signing of the agreement formally recognises the voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise (VCFSE) sector as an equal and strategic partner and the important role it plays in providing key services and activities.

Angela Kerr, Chair of the Somerset Group of Charities and CEO of Citizens Advice Somerset explains: “Charities and community groups have long been a valued partner to the public sector; delivering key services, connecting with communities at a grass roots level, and acting as the first port of call for people in need.

“But, given the demand we are seeing for health, social care and charity support services, it’s absolutely vital that we come together to pool our resources and skills and find new ways of working together. We want to be part of identifying and informing the priorities for action and to shape decision making, so this agreement is extremely welcome.”

Jonathan Higman, Chief Executive of NHS Somerset, comments: “The VCFSE sector makes a substantial and valued contribution in supporting and improving the lives of people living across Somerset. This agreement is a clear statement of our intent to work much more closely with VCFSE partners in the planning and delivery of local services.

“It represents a real milestone in our relationship. The agreement sets out our commitment to create a more equitable relationship between the VCFSE and statutory sectors, increasing collaboration and recognising the vital role people and communities play in people’s lives.”

Cllr Bill Revans, Leader of Somerset Council added: “Improving the health and wellbeing of Somerset’s population cannot be achieved by one organisation alone. The voluntary sector provides a vital lifeline to our communities, and I am delighted to be formally signing up to this agreement.

“We cannot get away from the fact that there will be some tough decisions which need to be made but in these challenging times, it is important that we recognise and build on each other’s strengths. We need to listen to our communities.  Change takes time and is built on relationships and trust.”

Katherine Nolan, CEO of Spark Somerset, the infrastructure charity who have coordinated the process, concludes: “We are all united in our vision for the people of Somerset to be happy and healthy and to live as well as they can for as long as they can. “By working together, we can make sure that Somerset residents get the right support when they need it. This agreement is just the start though and we’re looking forward to working in partnership with colleagues from health and the council to provide the best possible support for local people.”