Hayley Buchan is the manager of Healthy Families Hutt Valley.
“People in public health often talk about working in complexity and chaos – and that’s exactly what it’s like. Healthy Families Hutt Valley is part of a national initiative funded by the Ministry of Health since 2014. We work in prevention – our aim is to improve people’s health and wellbeing where they live, learn work and play. We take a systems approach to reducing the risk factors for preventable chronic disease and we work alongside communities to find solutions. We want to really get to the underlying causes of poor health and understand our community’s environment and lived experience. What happens when they step outside their front doors? Is the system enabling them to live well, or not?
Where can we intervene to get the biggest impact?
One of our founding principles is about leadership at all levels – anyone can be a leader, whether that’s a sports coach, a workplace manager, a teacher or a community champion. It’s all about building relationships across the prevention system. Everyone has a role to play in providing a healthier environment. Hutt City Council is our lead provider, so we sit inside local government and we know the decisions they make every day impact people’s wellbeing. Our role is to influence decision makers and get them to think differently about how they invest, and the lens they put over decisions. No one can argue that they don’t want a city that supports people to live well.
We are constantly challenging the status quo and that’s always tough. When we started it was hard to get buy-in with being a newly funded initiative. With my public health background, I’ve always been on the outside trying to influence decision makers. Coming into council, I quickly learned I had to change my narrative and my pitch to be about ‘how can I add value to others?’. I realised you have to make it about the synergies between what you want and what other people are trying to achieve. Talking health language really puts people off. Everyone has their own stories and journeys; it’s about connecting at that level and finding the passion that sits in other people that you can draw from. Our whole approach is strengths-based – building on what’s already working, supporting other people’s work to have a greater impact and figuring out how to scale it.
A few years ago, we started an initiative aimed at addressing fast food sponsorship in sport. One of my staff members had a conversation with Total Touch, who were sick of handing out fast food vouchers. They came to us, and said, ‘if you find another solution, we’ll happily trial it’. We came up with the idea of substituting the fast food vouchers with a free pool pass. We spoke to the council’s parks and recreation manager and explained the situation. Total Touch were our first local champions to give this a go and it’s been hugely successful. It just keeps expanding, with all the councils across the Wellington region involved. We’re also starting to go national, with other regions asking us to share our learnings. It just started with one conversation with one sporting code and with very little council investment needed. Through our evaluation, we know that if one person gets a pool pass they won’t be going to a pool by themselves, so there are a lot more people getting involved with physical activity. Once you start a relationship like that, you can weave in lots of other things. We start by listening to our community and partners, taking that on board and responding to their needs. The solutions lie in our communities, we just need to enable them to come through.
Resilience, mindset and emotional intelligence are so important when you’re working in public health. You need to be able to take some hard knocks along the way as it is challenging work. If you’re studying, look at offering volunteer time to get exposure to what our work looks like. The way we work is very responsive to opportunities, so you need to be agile, flexible and comfortable in ambiguity. Along with the challenges comes great personal and job satisfaction. Working alongside our communities and partners every day to make a difference to the environments we all spend our time in is hugely rewarding. I truly believe that together we can achieve impactful change that allows everyone to thrive.”