By Sian Lockwood, Community Catalysts
Debenham is a large village in Suffolk, where 8 years ago people came together to take action about a common concern that friends and neighbours with dementia were having to leave their community for care.
Over 100 people came to the first village meeting and agreed a long term vision of extra-care facilities in the village. They appointed an action committee and mandated them not just to deliver that vision but also in the meantime to ‘just do something’. With very little financial support from statutory sources, they set up a range of activities and supports which help friends and neighbours with dementia to stay at home for longer. I visited the village in 2012 and was blown away by the numbers and variety of people involved and the creativity of their ideas and activities. The pop-up dementia-friendly restaurant and emergency weekend hotline stood out for me during that visit but there were many other small and large initiatives that made a real difference to people’s lives – for example, people really appreciated the local librarian’s visit to the bi-weekly Carers Café to help people access web-based information about dementia and were excited by the idea of a local homecare agency staffed by local people. The project has changed and adapted with local need and the energies and skills of local people but is still going strong 6 years later. The action group (80+ strong) understands that each individual activity has a natural lifespan and that the gap left by the ending of one activity will, with the right kind of encouragement, be replaced by another. They also know that initiatives work when they are led by local people – well-meaning help from professionals can be the kiss of death to a new activity. As the co-ordinator of the action group says: ‘professionals should only do what professionals can do – we’ll do the rest and tell them when we need them’.
Somerset Council was concerned that people living in the most rural parts of the county could not access help to stay at home – it was just uneconomic for some traditional care agencies to provide care in these remote rural areas. They asked us in to work with local partners (parish councils, GP surgeries, churches) to help local people set up enterprises that would provide the help and support that was unavailable from more traditional sources. 3 years later there are nearly 300 enterprises, working in many different ways to support almost 1000 people to stay at home and connected to their community.
Sharon Walker has a lot of experience working in traditional care services. She took a career break to look after her mother in law and was profoundly affected by the experience of delivering person-centred care. Spurred on by this and with support from Community Catalysts, she decided to set up Care4U in December 2015. Care4U provides highly personalised, flexible and consistent support to older people in and around Sharon’s Somerset village. After 14 months running Care4U she explains the difference it has made to the people she supports:
‘I can organise my time so that people can get what they want at a time that suits them, it gives me the freedom to work around their family…’
The courage and trust shown by the council in the approach that it took to the originalchallenge was vital to the success of this project. As well as commissioning some capacitybuildinghelp the council trusted its people to make good choices by giving them directpayments and information about the range of enterprises in their neighbourhood.
Wakefield Council wanted to find ways to work more collaboratively with their communities. They commissioned a collective of organisations to work intensively with two self-defined neighbourhoods, finding out what was already happening, understanding the positive forces that helped get things done in those neighbourhoods, what local people felt was needed and how the council could help.
This comparatively small project provided new insights into a future for social care where the relationship between public services and local people is very different. It found:
That local people in the two neighbourhoods already had a really clear grasp of the challenges facing people in their communities and good ideas about possible solutions, but didn’t know who to talk to and how to make them happen;
Public sector initiatives working in parallel or cutting across each other;
Community initiatives inadvertently damaged by public sector activity that knew nothing about them or did not fully appreciate their value;
National initiatives that were not integrated with each other let alone into those of local communities;
Untapped or misaligned resources in local businesses and local charitable organisations. One of the neighbourhoods, for example, had a number of small charities working in isolation from each other as well as a large business with a community fund worth £250,000 which it ‘didn’t know how to use’.
Those neighbourhoods had plenty of internal and external resource, the problem was that much of it was being delivered in silos or was unvalued and therefore unused. There were no mechanisms which allowed local people to be fully involved in deciding local priorities, shaping local solutions and directing the use of resources to help deliver those local solutions. It was clear to all those involved in the project that putting local people at the centre of decision making, with public bodies there to inform, support and work collaboratively would make much better use of scarce resource. Almost as transformative was the realisation that the resources provided by the state were just part of the resources in the neighbourhood (people, buildings, money) – local planning needed to take account of all the resource available locally.
A glimpse of a positive future?
These three glimpses of a social care future show people with passion and a desire to make a difference to their own lives and the lives of their neighbours and community. They show that the appetite for community enterprise and action is alive and well, needing just a little encouragement and support to make a real difference to people’s lives. They show that you don’t have to ‘go big’ to scale – many very small enterprises or activities can have just as much of an impact on an area as one or two big enterprises. They show that an approach that helps unlock people’s imagination and talent and gives them the right kind of help allows many different flowers to bloom – and stay blooming. They show the importance of ‘place’ and understanding and engaging all the resources available in a neighbourhood. They also show a very different relationship with public bodies – one where the community has responsibility for determining local priorities and shaping the solutions that will address those priorities; where public bodies trust local people to make good decisions and wait to be brought in to ‘do those things only they can do’; where they help behind the scenes by making sure communities stay central and are respected; that public activity is co-ordinated, good information is available and money flows are identified and unblocked to help deliver community priorities.
Many areas provide glimpses of this social care future. We need one (or two, or three) brave areas to take all of this learning on board and demonstrate the creative power of a place where local people have the responsibility and resource needed to help people in their community live the best life they can and where the public services… well… serve.