Empowering Torbay to approach systemic issues and achieve change

Two years ago, I was getting ready to step out of the NHS and into a work world outside familiar services and pathways.

My NHS role had included looking beyond health and social care services and collaborating with community organisations on common goals of reducing health inequalities. I loved working with organisations such as Torbay Communities and Teignbridge CVS and finding different ways to solve problems.

Furthermore, I knew the infrastructure behind the Torbay Community Helpline was a brilliant system that caught people when they needed it most. Taking a strengths-based approach, the entire way of working reduces dependency and builds communities.

I quickly realised I had a helicopter view of what was happening in communities in Torbay. I quickly discovered a greater range and depth of action, energy, passion, skills, flexibility and commitment to building on strengths rather than deficits.

I’ve always tried to involve people with varying perspectives to solve problems. This is difficult while restricted by time, funds, and organisation direction. LocalMotion has enabled me to work across silos, without silos – not just in a realm of health or social care, or economy, or food crisis, or climate, but with all of those things and much more.

I’m not surprised by this, but have been continuously struck by the energy and optimism of people to get involved in something new and make change. People are energised by having their perspective, role and contribution valued with equity.

It’s been a luxury to work where decisions can be made by the collective and we don’t have to seek permission, or get something signed off by someone in charge, or wait for an assurance process to be undertaken remotely.

Some gems have started to emerge through this and I’m excited to see where these will take us:

  • Young people leading conversations with peers, teachers, parents and Ofsted about the education system;
  • Young people influencing the adult system around them to change the narrative about them, creating opportunities to develop and flourish;
  • Bringing people from small business enterprises and community interest companies to share knowledge and skills in fundraising and becoming sustainable – just £4,000 generated £100,000 income for the participants in a matter of months.


In a general climate of crisis, I appreciate it is difficult to find the real root causes. In times of increased cost of living, whether you are at home or at work, it is hard not to just keep fighting the fire in front of you.

It is a brave and risky move to walk into the fire towards the source. Being able to take the time to look at things in a different way with different people, continually questioning why, taking a chance and valuing the process as much as the outcome.

Working in this way isn’t easy and some have dropped away, prioritising instead their or their organisation’s immediate ‘must dos’. We’ve all been trained to respond to the short term, plan for limited time and activity, promise outcomes, deliver key performance indicators, maybe learn something at the end, or most likely, just repeat or move on.

There are some encouraging developments in our public sector organisations who are trying to do things differently, including sourcing equipment from local suppliers.

Working towards Torbay becoming a Sustainable Food Place has given us an opportunity to look comprehensively across our food system and plan further action to collaborate and amplify. I’m inspired by a ‘health creation’ collaboration in Cornwall between doctors, consultants, local food producers and the community to tackle diabetes and other health conditions by providing local, healthy food to people on prescription. Not only caring for our community but our planet.

There is much more to do. As our planet ricochets between fire, flood and pestilence, we haven’t properly explored how all of this needs a systematic approach that takes care of all elements needed for our survival, not just some, at the expense of others.

Doughnut Economics offers this opportunity (there is a Devon Doughnut!) where all decisions and actions are taken through a lens of the social and ecological components of food, water, health, education, income/work, peace/justice, political voice, social equity, equality, housing, networks and energy.

As I head back to an NHS fighting the fire of a crisis in urgent care and reducing resources, I hope my strengths, including everything I have learned over the last two years can be put to good use so we can work collaboratively to address the true causes of the apparent problems.