20 years of Health Action Zones in Cork

2022 marks a 20 year celebration of one of the longest running initiatives of community health - The Health Action Zone initiative
20 years of Health Action Zones in Cork

Past and Present members of the Cork North Community Work Department, Cork Kerry Community Health Care. Photo by theheadshotguy.ie

AS we get back out there into our groups and community activities and get on with living life to its fullest, living our best life as often as we can with our families, friends and neighbours, it’s important to look at what we have in our communities to support us to get active and connected.

This year marks a 20 year celebration of the establishment of one of the longest running initiatives of community health work within Cork Kerry Community Healthcare, Community Work Department in HSE.

The Health Action Zone initiative was established in 2002 within the health services as a two year pilot programme modelled on international examples of community health projects and a health response to the RAPID programme under Cork City Council.

Some of the key health issues identified with the community at the beginning of the projects some 20 years ago represent a starting point for the new team of five Community Health Workers across areas of Mayfield, The Glen, Blackpool, Farranree, Chruchfield, Gurranabraher and the surrounds - these issues were linked to asthma, chronic heart disease and various cancers, to name a few.

The earliest health plans looked at creative ways to conduct things like health checks in the community with hard to reach groups. This work saw a range of community health checks involving the local health workers and Public Health Nurses among others using local parks, barbers and Community Centres to offer health checks.

Community Health Projects now exist in Cork County areas of Youghal, Fermoy and Mallow where established Community Health Projects are hosted by community partner organisations. A new three year pilot Rural Community Health Worker project began this year with three further health workers focused on working with communities in rural north cork with a special mental health linked remit around suicide prevention, intervention and postvention work. This new pilot is a strong link between HSE Mental Health, Community Work and three large partnership companies.

There is now a team of 11 Community Health Workers individually and collectively working to support and promote the development of sustainable health projects, working always to create a whole community approach to health and wellbeing. Each health worker is supported by a local steering group which comprises representation across the health service, local community and voluntary organisations, local council and community volunteers.

Now with 20 years of a milestone under its belt and many wonderful and inspiring examples of community health work the Health Action Zone projects get to reflect and plan for the future.

One activity that have been most successful and indeed is replicated across all health areas with huge health benefits is walking. A walking group is supported in every health area by a community health worker and the team support Meet and Mingle walking events held throughout the year. These events see each health worker host a large walking event in their community with upwards of 200 walkers at times.

Community garden projects have developed in each health area with one of the most successful examples being The Glen Community Garden. This garden developed from waste land and today has a dedicated support team across HAZ, CE Workers in the Glen Resource Centre, Volunteers as well as a new Community Gardener. The garden is open every day and worth a visit to learn about ways you can incorporate growing in any type and size of space.

Covid 19 brought with it many challenges for the community health team who rose to the challenge and looked at ways of safely providing health activities. Some of the most simple and impactful activities to move to online delivery included bingo, coffee mornings and even craft activities like knitting and as well as singing!

One programme which is now widely supported across the health projects is Singing for the Brain. There is plenty of evidence to show how singing is good for our brain but our general wellbeing too. Everyone is welcome to join these interactive singing groups, no singing experience necessary.

Community music is supported across all the HAZ areas, there are many activities that involve music for boosting the mood. A number of community music groups a linked through HAZ namely Shandon Health Action Zone Band Men’s Shed, Martin’s Music Group and also Mayfield Mens Shed who boost a large choir link with HAZ and receive support in various ways from local Community Health Workers.

A few other important and memorable pieces of work reflected on by Community Health Workers range from one off engagements such as intergenerational board game making workshops to fun mobility workshops over a number of weeks such as Drumfit to annual events showcasing community health work at its best such as the Get Active Get Connected Oct month of community health activities and tasters for all.

A new website launched this month healthactionzone.ie makes connecting with health and health workers in the community easy for anyone.

The future for the Health Action Zones and Community Health Projects looks bright and active. It will no doubt focus on enhancing further its partnership ways of working at community level.

The community health team would have always engaged with local health professionals over the years and are now looking at engaging regularly with new Community Healthcare Networks in Primary Care within the health services.

This approach will ensure that information on the wide range of ways people can take control of their health such as engaging in Health Action Zone supported activities is clear to many people with a role in healthcare provision in the community.

Most importantly the community health team in HAZ and the community health projects of Youghal, Mallow, Fermoy and the rural community health worker team will be listening and responding to what the community want community health to be.

Information on health activities and contacts for all the health workers are available on the website healthactionzone.ie

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