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Latest Blog from our CEO


Pat Harris is Chief Executive of Engaging Communities South West (ECSW) and Strategic Lead for our Healthwatch (HW) in Devon Plymouth and Torbay Project:


Welcome to my first ECSW blog for 2022.

I’d like to begin by thanking all health & social care staff, carers, VSCE volunteers and members of the community who have managed to continue to support local people and work so hard to keep us all safe and supported during the Coronavirus outbreak.

It has been a very demanding time for everyone, however the opportunity to work with others   to ensure we could meet some of these demands has been a real positive experience. It’s great to see this is still continuing as we emerge through the covid restrictions as this benefits our community and partners.  The new development of the Torbay Health and wellbeing Network and the VSCE Alliance are examples of new opportunities to embed strong partnership working and ECSW are proud to be involved with both.

As a new organisation, it has been a challenging time. We have been developing and continuing to grow even through the crisis which has been mainly  due to a dedicated staff team, volunteers and Trustees who I would like to personally thank.

The pandemic required us to make some rapid changes to the way we worked at so many levels, to be as supportive as possible to partners and be accessible to the community whilst minimising non-essential work, this also included shifting to a new remote way of working from home.

We soon became experts in using Zoom and MS Teams, attending and hosting virtual meetings and live chats.  This brought a whole new way of working, with new phrases becoming the norm like “You’re on Mute!” and “I can’t see you“ – possibly the most frequent words used!

During the past two years we were also able to undertake new and innovative projects, including:


  • Community Response to Coronavirus

At the height of the pandemic, we redeployed our ECSW resources to support the wider community effort while offering our help to the Community Voluntary Sector (CVS) services, included being a founding member of the Torbay Community Helpline.

Working with our local Public Health Team, we supported the health and care system to get clear and accurate information and advice out to communities. This included setting up a dedicated up to date online COVID-19 information and advice service though all our networks.


  • COVID Ambassadors and Translation Services

One of our own Project Workers became one of 20 Devon Vaccine Ambassadors, recruited from across health and social care, local authorities and charities. They listened to their communities to promote reliable information about Covid-19 vaccinations and help people to have the confidence to have their vaccine.

Since 2020 our project worker – also a COVID ‘Champion’ for Torbay with Public Health – has been translating vital information about COVID-19 into Polish for the local community via websites and various Polish Facebook groups, shops and schools.


  • Digital Health Devon

Our Digital Health Devon eLearning project was made free and open to use for the public, as digital became essential during the pandemic. Our digital platform shows the local community how to use the internet to do things like book online appointments, order prescriptions, shop for food online or navigate through the online COVID test systems.

The project also expanded to offer two more areas of specific support:

  • To Care Homes in Torbay and South Devon, with an aim to reduce social isolation by improving communication and participation for care home residents who have suffered from restrictions that were imposed as a result of the pandemic.
  • To the general public having difficulty accessing the new video consultations being offered by hospitals.


  • Torbay Multicultural Network

We launched a new multicultural network in Torbay, made up of people from different ethnic minority groups. Currently there are nine members from diverse backgrounds working to provide feedback about services, helping with translations and developing action plans. One of the main areas highlighted through the pandemic was the health inequalities which hopefully this group can help to start to address locally.


  • Healthwatch (HW) in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay (HWDPT)

With ECSW embarking on a new contract to deliver HWDPT with two new partners Citizens Advice Devon & Colebrook Southwest our role is to support HWDPT to meet its statutory functions. This has had quite an impact with the pandemic, especially engagement with local people being hard to reach with restrictions that have been in place. However, it has been a high priority for us to work with our communities and service providers to gather as much evidence as possible on individual experiences.

We were able to escalate cases of people’s experiences and concerns to our health and social care partners, sharing experiences in relation to COVID-19, and we produced many different reports to highlight this.

As we recover from the pandemic and services start to open up, HWDPT’s role will be essential in continuing to gather the voices of services users, which we will share with providers and commissioners to help support services to recover by ensuring service user voices are the heart of what they do.

We know for example that there will be long waits for surgery and treatments that have been delayed during the pandemic, but we are supporting the NHS locally to tackle this by enabling people to get involved in the conversations and make suggestions as to how the waiting lists can be reduced.


  • Other community projects undertaken

We have been working on lots of different community projects including Staying Put, Care Home Manager Network, Whole Home Healing Project, and the Paignton Health & Wellbeing Hub at Paignton Library to mention but a few. All of our projects support local people to improve their health and wellbeing and enable them to live a happier and healthier life.


Final thoughts

We know we are facing many challenges moving forward in the years ahead, things like the rising cost of living, reduced workforce and poor housing which will all impact on people’s health and wellbeing.

ECSW will continue to focus on supporting  our local communities in the best way we can through these difficult times.”





Pat Harris