Conwy Health Precinct – The power of perseverance

08 March 2017
  • The Auditor General for Wales recently held a joint collaborative event with the Future Generations Commissioner to determine how the new Well-being of Future Generations Act should be monitored and audited. As part of the event the Wales Audit Office’s Senior Communications Officer, Mark Woods was tasked with finding a case study of the principles of the Act in action. Here he blogs about his experience of discovering that case study and the key things public services in Wales can learn from this example.


    Back in November I was tasked with capturing on film a case study that typified the new Well-being of Future Generations Act. With our joint conference with the newly appointed Future Generations Commissioner on the horizon I was alerted to a ground-breaking project taking place in North Wales.

    Conwy’s Health Precinct will be familiar I am sure to those involved in preventative health but as a government communicator I was starting with a blank page. Having been pointed to some online resources I quickly set about learning as much as I could about the project, I read everything I could get my hands on, from official documents and mini-case studies to snippets of comment found in various minutes from meetings around the partnership.

    What I discovered was that this joint venture between Conwy County Council, Betsi Cadwaladar University Health Board and The Welsh Rugby Union, while now seen as a great example of partnership working, had some trouble in its early days convincing others of its long term benefits.

    The concept in itself is simple - Prevention is better than cure. By basing clinical care teams within a leisure setting, in this case Conwy’s Eirias Park, they can use exercise and rehabilitation rather than costly and disruptive clinical intervention to improve lives. This meant classes for people with long-term injuries and ailments, a focus on rehabilitation through group exercise and provision for those living with dementia-All simple by design but making an impact for peoples complex ailments.

    The issue was, as I soon discovered, that we are in a results business. Annual audits and performance measures mean a need for instant results and The Health Precinct just didn’t fit into this way of working - it was a long-term project subject to short-term scrutiny. When I interviewed the project lead John Hardy for the film, he described the Precinct as not fitting into the boxes set out in the partnership agreement, a square peg in a round hole if you like.

    But it was the perseverance of the team at Eirias that enabled the Precinct to bear fruit, some 12 years after its inception. The important thing here is that they knew from feedback from those taking part in the scheme that they had hit on a great idea, they knew the project would come to fruition but they just didn’t know when.

    It was this short-term approach to managing performancethat we focussed on when we shared the film with an audience of Chief Executives and key players from across Welsh public services at the conference in November. In order to ensure there are more projects like the Precinct we needed to spread the message that as public services we to adjust our thinking.

    As John says in the film, the team at Conwy were not thinking 1 year ahead they were thinking 5, 10, 15 and even 20 years into the future, creating a legacy for their children and grandchildren – the exact approach to long-term thinking that the Well-being of Future Generations Act is seeking to promote.

    For this reason alone the Health Precinct project is a worthy case study for public services but importantly the reason that it has resonated with people, including the uninitiated such as myself, is the impact it is having on the people who use the service.

    Over 2 days in North Wales I traversed the length of the A55 (or as it’s more glamorously known ‘The North Wales Expressway’) speaking to people all across the region about what the Precinct has meant to them. At Colwyn Bay Leisure Centre I met with Bill and Karlyn, both had been housebound by debilitating injuries and both were now enjoying a new lease of life having been part of various Health Precinct schemes.

    Speaking with Karlyn she relayed how she had got her ‘sparkle’ back and how simple things such as going out for coffee with friends had enhanced her life. She spoke too about her transformation as a result of the weight loss that came with her increased activity. Recalling when she visited her husband’s business for the first time in years and the employees who once greeted her on first name terms couldn’t recognise her, so dramatic were the results.

    It is stories such as these that demonstrate the real power of taking a longer-term approach. Without the perseverance of the team at the Precinct the project would have failed at those first audit and scrutiny meetings and the benefits I saw in Bill, Karlyn and countless others would never have been realised.

    The motivation is to provide better services to the people of Wales and what greater reason is there to challenge the way we think? Let’s start now.

    The Shaping Accountability Conference was held at the Wales Millennium Centre on November 22nd. The collaborative event , Chaired by the BBC’s Sian Lloyd, focussed on problems and solutions to three key themes arising from the work of the external review community – working together, creating real value and better listening. If you would like to catch-up on the outputs from the conference you can do so via the hashtag #Shaping16 on Twitter.

    For further reading on the Conwy Health Precinct case study, visit the Wales Audit Office, Good Practice Exchange blog and read their post 'Collaboration and working across boundaries: Colwyn Bay Health Care and Wellbeing Precinct'


    About the Author

    Twitter profile picMark Woods is the Senior Communications Officer for the Wales Audit Office. Mark has over 10 years’ experience in public sector communications working for the majority of that time with the Wales Audit Office with a 2-year secondment at Academi Wales within the Welsh Government.  Mark has developed a keen interest in social media content, video production and editing and shares his thoughts through his blog and on Twitter @MarkStevenWoods.