Author: Ann Forletta

Providing insights and preventing loneliness: the Patient Health Forum

Social isolation is a big issue for people of all ages, but research shows that it’s a particular problem for those who live in cities, older people and people with a long term health condition. That’s why having more opportunities to get together with others for a cuppa and a chat is really important.

A great example of a group supporting those at risk of social isolation is the Patient Health Forum. It’s for anyone in South Birmingham who has a long term health condition, and its members include people with everything from asthma to arthritis, Alzheimers and anxiety.

Although it can be useful for people to talk about their health condition during the meetings (and, in fact, the meetings are funded by South Birmingham CCG in return for feedback about the health services they use), the biggest benefit that the Patient Health Forum brings is the opportunity to meet and talk to others.

Our first session of the year took place a couple of weeks ago in Stirchley, and 31 attendees enjoyed a buffet lunch, a talk from Wayne on the Five Ways to Wellbeing, and entertainment from a Michael Bublé tribute act. Some, like Irene, even had a sing and a dance!

Committee member Pauline Hartley said, “It matters not what health condition people have – but how they can be helped to deal with the isolation, the social problems and the access to services that will help them. Our members constantly ask if the group will stay open because it so important to them and even sometimes is the only place they go to for social interaction.”

Although the Forum had already been running for a number of years, Gateway became involved in 2014 to help facilitate the meetings. Since then, we’ve been supporting the committee with the general running and budgeting of the group, organising the venue, transport and refreshments, bringing in speakers and entertainment, and sharing our knowledge and contacts. And although funding for the group has dipped recently – meaning we’ve had to go from monthly to quarterly sessions – we’ve seen numbers continue to grow. We’re particularly pleased that older people and carers are coming along because, according to research evidence:

  • In the UK, 17% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week, and 11% in contact less than once a month.
  • Loneliness is common in carers, especially resident carers. Other groups at risk of loneliness include older married women, older people who live with married children, those living in sheltered housing or residential care and older people who emigrated from other countries (especially those who do not speak the language well).
  • Loneliness seems to be less prevalent in those rural areas where a sense or community still remains than it is in more densely populated urban areas.
  • Lack of money limits the opportunities for overcoming loneliness: those on lower incomes are more prone to feelings of loneliness than those who are better off.

Membership of the Patient Health Forum is open to anyone who lives in South Birmingham, or is registered with a South Birmingham GP, and lives with a long term health condition. If you’d like to get involved, give us a call on 0121 456 7820 and ask to speak to someone about the Patient Health Forum.

Why we’re starting our Christmas collection early this year

hampers2It’s only November but we are already starting to ask for donations for our annual Christmas hampers.

Every year our Pregnancy Outreach Workers (POWS) put together hampers that include essentials – food and baby items – as well as a few extra treats that we hope will help families over the Christmas period. But this year, we’ve started collecting a bit earlier than usual.

To put it simply, this is because we are seeing an increased need for food parcels, foodbank vouchers, and money from our hardship fund.

Justine, who runs the POW service, said, “The amount of hardship money we’ve given out has increased steadily over the last few months. We have also been giving out more vouchers for the Trussell Food Banks this year, in addition to the food that we give out ourselves.”

Traditionally, our POW service has had the largest need for food parcels, but over the last year we have seen an increase in need across all our services, not just POWS. Health Trainers are reporting that more and more of their clients have been in need of basic essentials, and have needed to access our food bank and hardship funds.

These statements were recently made by Health Trainer clients on our Impact Assessment App:

It would be easier for me to get one bus [to the swimming pool, instead of two], because my benefits are being cut back by £120 fortnightly. I have to budget my money carefully. They are stopping my DLA and may put me on PIP. I don’t know how much money I will be getting.


My living conditions are quite bad and I don’t have much money to buy healthy food.

This one is from a Lighten Up client:

I had to give up on the classes, as when money is hard its the last thing you think about.

And worryingly, we’ve found that many of the older people we’ve met through our newest project, Healthy Futures, have significant financial hardship issues too. Despite only having a handful of referrals to date, we can already see that there will be a need to provide food parcels and hardship payments for many of the people who are being referred to us. (Of course this will be as well as helping them to access all the support they are entitled to and signposting them to other agencies who can help.)

How can you help?

For our food bank and baby bank, we are in need of everyday, non-perishable food items and baby essentials. For our Christmas hampers, we like to include some little treats, like toys for baby and sweets or ‘smellies’ for mum. If you think you could donate, you can bring items to us at the Gateway offices, or give us a call on 0121 456 7820 and we can arrange to collect.

  • Tins – beans, soup, custard, peas, beans, fish (tuna, mackerel, pilchards) etc.
  • Rice
  • Flour
  • Herbs and spices
  • Lentils
  • Pasta
  • Pasta sauces/jars of sauce
  • Biscuits
  • Some sweets and chocolate would be nice
  • Clothes – up to twelve months as we have little space to hold them
  • Sanitary towels – the larger “maxi pad” type is better for new mums
  • Soap
  • Toothpaste
  • ‘Smellies’ for mum
  • Shampoo – unopened
  • Body lotion – unopened
  • Newborn nappies
  • Baby wipes
  • Cotton wool
  • Baby bath wash
  • Baby lotion
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Books

We also have an Amazon Wishlist that contains some of the things we would like. (However, please be aware that it’s often cheaper to buy nappies, food and baby essentials in the supermarket!)

Katherine Hewitt

A new era for Gateway

After a period of handover, we are settling into our new way of working, with a new CEO, new board members and a slightly new organisational structure.


Our new CEO, Katherine Hewitt, is now fully in place.

Katherine Hewitt
CEO Katherine Hewitt
Katherine has been with Gateway for just over three years, first managing the Health and Wellbeing division, then as Deputy CEO, then Operations Manager.

It’s clear that not only does Katherine know Gateway very well, but she understands the directions in which the organisation is moving and why, and believes in its goals as strongly as the Board does. She has an in depth knowledge of the local health and social care economy, and is passionate about addressing both inequalities and the underlying determinants of ill health and social deprivation.

Katherine’s background is in community development and regeneration. Although her previous work was largely in the public sector it was always about forging links with the voluntary and community sectors and building their capacity, so her move to the not-for-profit sector was a natural one.

Katherine replaces Vicki Fitzgerald, who left at the end of April. Vicki set up Gateway and has been leading it for the last eight years, so we recognise that a change of CEO could mean a big change for the organisation. However, Katherine’s appointment means some continuity and so the change will be a gentle one.

New structure

Under Katherine, Gateway now has one Operations Manager, Jo Harper, but two Departmental Managers. Michelle Smitten runs our Employment Access, Skills and Training (EAST) department, and we welcome Jane Piggott-Smith, who will be running our Health and Wellbeing department.


Gateway was set up to deliver training and development for people who need it most, by creating new paraprofessional roles, and that will continue to be the case. Gateway is here to fill the gaps and to engage the people who need it most; our ethos hasn’t changed.

As we explained in our eighth birthday blog post in February:

We say that people are best helped by those who are two steps ahead – in other words, people who have experienced problems but have made progress. So we employ people with direct, personal knowledge of the issues our clients face. Often, they’ve overcome similar problems themselves. The people they are supporting will relate to them and their achievements don’t seem too far out of reach.

Our departments cover areas like employment training, weight loss and pregnancy outreach. The common thread is “people who need help” and all of the areas we cover have a direct impact on health and wellbeing.

Katherine’s priorities, which are set by the Board, will include continuing to deliver important contracts across the city, but also setting up some more of our own trading activities, like the interpreting service that we set up last year. These sorts of activities – that are completely under our control – still exist to help people and “fill in the gaps”, but also make us more sustainable as a business. Of course, we’re still interested in new opportunities, tenders and service delivery, but having a mix of both is important.

New board

We have also doubled the number of board members – from six to twelve.

Although all of the current six board members give Gateway a lot of time, they all have day jobs, so their time is limited. By having more people on the Board, we’ve realised we can spread the work a lot more. It has also given us the opportunity to bring in new specialisms, skills and points of view.

Our new board members have experience in third sector and health roles, including patient involvement, employability and volunteering – but also workforce development, HR, organisational development and PR, which are already proving to be invaluable as we move forward into the new era.

Meet the new board members

Moybul Ali

Moybul comes from a background of volunteering and community work. He has worked with a range of social enterprises, charities and community development projects – including those related to housing, employability, health, youth work and the environment – often in voluntary managerial and director roles.

Mark Lynes

Mark has worked in the disability movement for nearly 20 years and has held a number of voluntary directorships in that time. In the last two years he has sat on the Community Champion panel for BeBirmingham and was a strategy group member of Birmingham Link. He is also a visiting lecturer for Social Work degrees at Birmingham City University and Birmingham University.

Steve O’Neill

Steve is a communications and change management consultant with a background in health and social care. As a consultant, his work focuses on helping organisations communicate and improve engagement by creating connections and building meaningful relationships. His consultancy specialises in the UK health and social care markets but has also supported clients across the wider public sector, the private and not for profit sectors.

Mandy Shanahan

Mandy is the Director of Workforce for Health Education West Midlands. She has worked in the Education and Health sector for over 15 years and has experience with both Birmingham City Council and a range of NHS organisations in Birmingham and the Black Country. Mandy has been a supporter of Gateway’s work since its inception and, as Director of Workforce at South Birmingham PCT, worked closely with Gateway as it was being set up.

Richard Smith

Richard has worked for several years in employment and housing support and currently works as an employability professional delivering the Work Programme. His background also includes a knowledge of housing law, and housing and income related benefits law. Richard is also heavily involved in charity work, so brings a strong third sector knowledge.

Liz Wood

Liz currently works with communities, partnerships and corporate businesses to raise investment to support patient care and service delivery, but her previous work includes working in the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). As well as giving health guidance and resolutions to members of the public, families and carers, she has also worked with commissioners across the city to develop services in patient experience, children and young people, and maternity services.

See all board members here.