Shining light into the fog of negativity

By Angela Catley, Community Catalysts

People ‘doing it for themselves’ report and stories launched by Community Catalysts

We work in a bit of a bubble – the world of health and social care. It’s a sector that is always complex and often baffling, one which on the face of it is all about people…but you don’t have to dig too deep to see that the people who are supposed to benefit are rarely in the driving seat.

I find myself challenged because I really want people – the ‘general public’ whoever they are – to understand my bubble…and get frustrated when they fail. I talk to family and friends who move in different circles and have different experiences to mine and cringe when they use language like handicapped and elderly; despair when their only view of my world is care homes, day centres and hospitals. Frustration and despair felt by someone who only works in the sector, I dread to think how it feels for someone who experiences it regularly in person.

I understand where the lack of insight comes from. A media obsessed with ageing as a ‘timebomb’, portraying older people with images of wrinkly hands and zimmer frames. An austerity driven Government viewing disability largely in terms of the impact on costly services. Both of these combined with some care and support models that have evolved very little in the last 30 or more years. The whole thing creates a kind of negative fog into which the creativity and strengths of people, organisations and the sector as a whole slides out of view.

The whole thing creates a kind of negative fog into which the creativity and strengths of people, organisations and the sector as a whole slides out of view

So where to start. All of that negative stuff has a core of reality, for some people in some places sometimes. But, and it’s a big but, it is really not how it is for everyone, everywhere. Community Catalysts has the privilege to work everyday with people, communities and organisations that want different and do different. Imaginative, energetic people who are challenging the dated stereotypes and creating a different reality for themselves and others. A quiet, and quietly satisfying, little revolution.

Imaginative, energetic people who are challenging the dated stereotypes and creating a different reality… A quiet, and quietly satisfying, little revolution.

I take heart from colleagues and peers leading this revolution within organisations. Organisations like local government, small and large businesses, charities, social enterprises and community groups. A good example is the Social Care Futures initiative, started by a ‘change agent’ or two and evolving into a multi-faceted movement made up of everyone and anyone who experiences, offers or plans social care. Another is Personalised Care, an initiative started by NHS England, picked up by local government and health organisations and now snowballing into something that might, just might result in a very different system in the future. All working together to make things different and better with people who need care and support to live their life, their way firmly in the driving seat.

But the folks whose story I really want to tell are the individuals and small groups of people who have personal experience of time in the health and care bubble. People who need care or support to live their lives. People often portrayed as being little more than wrinkly hands, wheelchairs, benefits recipients, service users…needs. People who live with challenges every day – usually placed on them by the system or society as a whole.

Community Catalysts supported by the National Lottery Community Fund developed a project to focus on these people. In particular those individuals who refuse to disappear quietly into the fog of negativity. Our project is called ‘people who are doing it for themselves’ and its whole purpose is to shine a huge spotlight on the positives. Strengths instead of needs, citizen instead of service user, can instead of can’t.

Strengths instead of needs, citizen instead of service user, can instead of can’t

We know there is real value in finding out what helps these people (and the folks around them) to value their strengths and believe in themselves. We think it might be possible to distil some of this stuff and use its essence in other areas for other people – spreading good ideas and good practice far and wide. Exciting stuff but more than a bit scary too.

We made a start by writing a list of all the people we knew who are ‘doing it for themselves’ People who are running their own enterprise or group and/or affecting change within their community. People who shine a light through the negative fog in a small, medium or huge way.

We grew the list by inviting people to get in touch, searching on line, using social media and talking to people we know about people they know. The results were amazing. 56 individual leaders running enterprises or businesses or groups in their community and another 15 run by groups of people working together. And the list keeps growing. We found people in England, Scotland and Wales; in cities and villages. Men and women, of all ages, who live with conditions like dementia or autism or epilepsy; those define themselves as disabled and others who experience challenges with their health. All of whom are actively, intentionally and gloriously leading positive change for themselves or others. Strengths at the forefront with needs still there but well out of focus.

  • We spent a good few weeks talking to people and learning from them, bringing some people together into a coproduction group to help us plan. We’ve realised there is such a lot to learn and also that we are only seeing the tip of this hugely positive iceberg as it juts jauntily clear of the fog of negativity. We then went on to distil what we’ve learnt, working with our partner Public Perspectives to write it down for sharing with anyone and everyone who might have the power and inclination to create the conditions for creative, talented citizens to shine. The result is:

We’ve realised there is such a lot to learn and also that we are only seeing the tip of this hugely positive iceberg as it juts jauntily clear of the fog of negativity

To learn more contact Project Manager, Angela Catley on 01423 503937 or email on angela.catley@communitycatalysts.co.uk

 

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