By Tim Cooper, United Response
Most would agree that these are tricky times for those of us in social care and certainly the challenges we face don’t seem to be reducing in number or complexity. Social Care Future is a powerful stimulus to get us thinking about how we need to think and act differently.
I was talking recently to one of our longest-serving managers who is just retiring and I asked her what her parting reflections would be, and she set it out quite simply “Really, it’s about de-professionalising peoples’ lives and keeping a focus on people being included”.
We need to see people with using social care (in our case particularly people with learning disabilities) as part of whole communities and not special groups of people with particular conditions.
We need to develop ways of working out of settings that everyone can use that are not just for people using social care.
We need to focus more on what is ordinary and less on what is special.
There are numerous individuals in every community who are isolated and lonely. Belonging to a community network can help prevent individuals from reaching crisis point by offering company, a sense of worth and belonging and practical help with things like transport/ shopping etc. Should someone experience a change in need or reach a crisis point, a natural network of support has already been established with people known to that individual who can give that little extra during a particular time of need.
In one of the deprived coastal communities on the South coast, we run a community network. At its heart is a simple idea that: everyone has something of value to contribute that could help or benefit someone else, including those who often sit on the margins of society. And that everyone has something to gain from engaging with others in their community, including those who may appear most advantaged.
Through the network we encourage people to come together to share interests, hobbies, skills, ideas, concerns, aspirations and needs… People from all walks of life come together and contribute. It is fun, creative, empowering, motivating, resourceful, inclusive and non-judgemental and imbues a sense of belonging to or being a part of something.
It has a high street presence, branded as the ‘community network’ rather than specifically learning disability service. People with a learning disability are active members of the network, the point is so are older people from the local area, families, children, in fact anyone in the local area who has something to contribute and wants to draw something from it.
In the jargon of the sector it is an asset based approach. I don’t think that’s how members of the network would describe it. They see it as a place where they meet others, can help others and receive something in return.
Parts of south-west London are among some of the most affluent areas of the country, but that does not necessarily mean for some of the people who live there that there is any reduction in the loneliness, marginalisation and sense of exclusion that they feel. The idea of volunteering within local communities is not new but very often in this context it seen as people volunteering to help the more marginalised members of society, for example people learning disabilities. With the help of the National Development Team for Inclusion we are starting to look at whether we can turn this on its head. We are developing a local ‘Time Bank’. This will start small but the aim is to link people from across the community and provide an opportunity for disadvantaged people to volunteer their time to support their local community and become engaged and involved. If we can make this work people who would otherwise be seen as recipients of social care are contributing to the community well-being and reducing the demands on public services.
A couple of years ago we joined forces with a Devon-based charity – Robert Owen Communities. One of the one of the things that really attracted us to them was their innovative ‘well-being’ services, supporting people with disabilities from local community settings. So for example, they have staff based in local leisure centres who enable disabled people to make full use of the centre’s facilities, sometimes supporting them to access the day-to-day programme of activities and sometimes supporting people one-to-one. These staff to all intents and purposes are indistinguishable from the core leisure centre team, but have the time expertise and training to support individuals’ particular needs but in the same settings as everyone else.
Our aim at United Response is to build an approach to supporting people that is based on networks of support rooted in local communities, with the back-up of a large and well-resourced organisation. The practical examples above give us the confidence that it is possible to think about social care differently and more importantly to make an impact with people.