I live in Millom, a small, isolated town on the west coast of Cumbria with around 8,500 inhabitants. Our nearest hospital is 45 minutes away and we are an hour from the motorway.
Back in 2014 there was huge concern in the town about the possible closure of our community hospital. Within a matter of days Millom Health Action Group was formed to address this issue head on.
A protest march was organised and on 7th May 2014 over 2,500 people - almost a third of the town’s population - took to the streets in a peaceful march to demonstrate how much the hospital meant to the local people.
What became apparent in the direct aftermath of the demonstration, was that issues with our health services ran much deeper. We had lost many key NHS services, which people were coming to understand was leaving our community very vulnerable.
With a mandate from the public to act on their behalf, we called a town meeting and invited all NHS directors of local health services to attend. Astonishingly over 500 people came and asked questions. We demanded full honesty and transparency from everyone involved and, to their credit, the NHS leaders present opted to work with us.
Once a month we met face to face, discussed the issues and would work out solutions to the problems we faced. A key issue that emerged was a shortage of doctors which was putting great pressure on our only doctor’s surgery and community hospital.
We actually had more vets than Doctors in 2014.
The surgery had unsuccessfully tried to recruit for two years. Our community group came up with the idea of a community made recruitment video, free from NHS guidelines and traditional recruitment techniques.
The video was amazing – featuring local school children, local GPs and showcasing our local area. The video was released and gained over 8,000 hits on YouTube and was ultimately a crucial factor in successfully recruiting new doctors and saving our hospital from closure.
The video kept service open but it was clear that communicating with all sections of the community was difficult. So, on the 4th December 2014Around the Combe Magazinewas launched.
The first issue was a free, 28-page, full colour magazine, packed with lots of local events and information but at the heart of the magazine were messages around health and wellbeing with significant input from the NHS.
Each village delivered to their own homes ensuring the most isolated people were not forgotten. 5,500 copies are hand delivered to over 13,000 people every month. We are now on our 16th edition and the magazine has grown to 32 pages.
We have been told by many of our community that it is a life line to them. This is what can be achieved by volunteers if they are given the freedom to find solutions for all their problems together.
Jenny Brumby is an Editor of Around The Combe Magazine and a steering group member of Millom Health Action Group. The group works on behalf of our community with the NHS to make decisions about our health services.