By Clare Wightman
I have to ‘fess up to feeling uncomfortable on these pages. I never thought what we did was ‘social care’ or that we were a ‘social care’ organisation.
That language of care never didn’t and still doesn’t shape how we see ourselves. Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire is working with the strengths of people and communities to help them bring about change that will improve their lives and futures. We’re deeply rooted in a place. We aid people and communities to find a voice, organise, advocate for shared interests, and bring about change. We’re not ‘providers’ or ‘deliverers’ – a pretty depressing sounding typology and one that comes from commissioning not civil society. ‘Social care’ spaces (the provider forums, the involvement forums, the programme boards) to us were too stale and stuck. Too powerless and without joy.
So if we’re not social care providers what are we?
We’re inspired by how social movements happen and we use the same methods to spark community action. We help people form strong two-way relationships and take collective action on the things that matter to them.
When she got diagnosed with a rare spinal condition Melissa had to give up work. She lost her main source of friendships and connections and instead became “stuck on the sofa” (her words) waiting for her next consultant appointment. Her thoughts revolved around what she had lost and what she couldn’t do any more. Disconnected from her community she descended into isolation and low mood – until she set up the Feel Good Community. Now it’s a 500 strong group of people coming together to create activities that help them stay well and a burgeoning social business.
Those 500 people were not gathered by us. They were gathered by someone with a chronic health condition. We just helped her know how to do it and how to keep growing her ‘movement’ using the tools of community organising.
Wave Rave began in Spring 2016 when we brought together a group of mainly disabled people who wanted to go swimming but couldn’t. Six months later 103 people – aged 1-70 – attended the 5th self-organised Wave Rave. The most recent Wave Rave (June 18) was run just by and for teens, with mocktails and giant inflatables. From the spark of an idea it has become a thriving community of friends of all ages who not only come together to hold fun, inclusive pool events but also see and support each other in between events too.
Experiencing undiagnosed autism and excluded from multiple schools Ben was helped by Andrew to attend another bit of community action we helped spark a Slow Roll cycling event. Through his spontaneous relationship with Andrew and other connections he got a maths tutor, went camping and his mum Dawn, who told us her family was coming apart, got a source of practical informal help. Ben then got involved in organising Wave Raves leading to an apprenticeship as a lifeguard at Coventry Sports Foundation.
None of our ‘movements’ are projects. A project says ‘how can we provide help to people who need it?’’, but in a movement those who have needs are also those who provide support. Projects need beneficiaries. Movements just need all kinds of people able and willing to act on a shared challenge. Movements create more and more initiatives. Feel Good has already created an off shoot called Self-Care Social. Projects don’t. Projects have hard edges. They end.
But is it the future? It’s certainly true that local authorities dealing with scarcity look at what I’m describing and see abundance. But neither of us yet knows how to connect our wiring. And there‘s a lot at stake if we do.
We are often subject to commercial models and cultures that don’t allow us to work in the ways we need to and which distort our value – that is well known and talked about but it isn’t changing – yet. Most likely we will have to resist an urge to commodify what I am talking about so it can be purchased rather than, as I would hope, invested in.
And there are other, bigger dangers ahead. I don’t want this to be distorted into helping people manage without the services they need. The effect of the 2010s on disabled people has been disastrous. Leaving aside dwindling universal and provision for children and adults they have been failed by the universal credit system and attacked as benefit claimants.
No amount of Wave Raves will fix that. They’re not intended to. But movement inspired methods empower people to know how to gather and organise in support of their collective interests. The thing about movements is – they move. Community action can generate social action.
Clare Wightman is Chief Executive of Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire