Our response to the pandemic has been to absorb, and adapt – but might there now be an opportunity to transform?

silver lining

“Just doing what we can, where we are, with the people we are connected with”

Thank you to our blog readers for sharing your experiences of lockdown with us. What a rich narrative we received! More than 30 of you responded, from a variety of fields; NHS (frontline and management), voluntary and social enterprise sector, Local Authorities, housing, psychologists, coaches and more. We expected stories illustrating how different things are under lockdown, but hadn’t anticipated so many silver linings. We wanted to see if there was a common thread, or threads, what we could learn from, and how we can build on the positives in our future (personal and professional) lives, ‘post-pandemic’? We weren’t sure how to do this in a logical and readable way without adding our own bias. We feel incredibly lucky that our colleague Caroline Lee, senior researcher at the University of Cambridge, accepted our invitation to help. She joins us as guest author, with an interest in collaborative and community-based approaches to health and wellbeing.

Charlotte (@ckkirin) & Wendy (@wendylansdown)

Our response to the pandemic has been to absorb, and adapt – but might there now be an opportunity to transform?

Guest Blog by Caroline Lee, Senior Research Associate, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and Cambridge Institute of Public Health

find Caroline on Twitter @cazzerlee

When Charlotte and Wendy put out the call, the country was reeling from the immediate shock of being told to stay home, stay safe, protect the NHS. What did this mean for our work, kids, partner, family members? The vast majority of those of you who responded were clearly still working during this time, so there were reports of disruptions to working patterns, locations, workload, priorities, emergency procedures, uncertainties over need and availability of PPE etc. As time went on, though, you settled into new routines. What you found different, positive, and worth keeping offers insight for developing caring communities…

Ingredients for Caring (Covid-19) Communities?

In developing caring places, we need to acknowledge that we are operating with multiple identities – as workers and professionals – but also as individuals, family members, carers, neighbours, friends, and sometimes also as patients, and people who need help and support. Your stories were both ones of personal and professional adaptation. A mix of emotions were being felt – often simultaneously – togetherness, relief, recognition and gratitude (especially for key workers), alongside fear and, sometimes, resentment (of those with time off in their gardens).

Personal resilience

There were observations around coping, and ideas perhaps linked to personal ‘resilience’, such as being aware of and accepting these mixed emotions, embracing uncertainty, alongside greater appreciation of the ‘little things’ and what we have got (a job, a home with a garden, someone else to share your household). We noticed other people and our surroundings, and we appreciated nature, birdsong, quiet, a simpler and slower pace of life.

Many positive thoughts about ‘community’ were expressed, and you reflected on the importance of relationships, and reciprocity. There was a feeling of being ‘all in it together’. Community spirit was out in spades, aided perhaps by the fact that we had more time for our own communities. With less or no time spent commuting, we were more available to our families too, resulting in a better work-life balance. Did this contribute to an ability to absorb the shock, and adapt our responses?

Professional resilience

On a professional level, a sense of community was equally important, it seems. Investment in building team spirit was essential, and there were interesting reflections that when physical meetings were replaced with on-line, stronger relationships resulted from colleagues really ‘seeing’ and getting to know each other for the first time. New work patterns were not universally welcomed, though, and some reflected that online meetings are hard, while resentment could build where a lack of equity (in workload) was perceived.

Adaptations to work practices followed including, but not limited to, the opportunities of ‘digital’. Significant wins were recorded from a ‘can do’ approach and attitude, translating to faster decision making, better prioritisation, and overcoming organisational barriers.

“… Covid makes people much more focussed. This was the shortest meeting of this group ever! We need to retain this sense of focus … and not return to our previous rambling discussions.”

“Released from shackles of procedures, people work together towards solutions”

“Good to just do what feels right”

Negative side-effects?

While positivity was much more evident, there were observations too of the flip side to agility and responsiveness. These included: panic, anger, blame as well as ‘holding on’ to power and hierarchy. Similarly, warnings were also there to be careful and not allow a ‘rescue’ culture to develop, undermining a person-centred approach.

Unpacking the learning and moving forward

Some of the themes above speak to concepts of wellbeing, social capital, and resilience. When we talk about resilience, we often think about the ability to respond positively to shocks. It seems that the aspects highlighted above were key to our ability to absorb this particular shock – Covid-19 -, as well as to successfully adapt our responses – both personal and professional.

If resilience is what we need, how do we build it while avoiding negative responses? Understandably we see it is easier to commit to change at home than change at work. There were several ‘notes to self’ to look after our own health and wellbeing, to: slow down; reflect; be present; connect more; and take more exercise. Concurrently, we aspire to looking after the environment including reducing our car use. In our professional capacities, though, our thoughts are more ‘aspirational’ – recognising and reflecting on a need to act collectively within and across organisations.

“Will we take time to pause, notice, and learn? Not rush in, solve & put back – but take this chance to reset?”

“We need to be purposeful about the future we create – not just back to business as usual”

“… feels exciting because I can see so much about HOW we do things that shouldn’t return to pre-Covid normal as well as WHAT we do.”

What might a ‘reset’, rather than a ‘return’ (to normality) look like? In the reflections, there were strong feelings about what needs to happen, and what has supported us in supporting others. Good communication is vital, as are networks and infrastructure, to underpin our readiness to respond and mobilise. Encouragingly, it looks like people are already involved in localities where some of the right ingredients are in place. Capacity to mobilise also requires a broader understanding of influences on people’s health – “health is created more by people in communities than by hospitals”. There is a plea for ‘systems, not silo thinking’, joint working, recognition and sharing of assets and resources across communities and organisations.

Conclusions?

In a pre-Covid world, the ‘Caring places’ conference intended to pose a number of questions for discussion, including: How can public sector support community development? How can regulation and innovation go hand in hand? How can organisations support frontline staff to self-manage? All of these have been highly pertinent in our response to Covid-19, as shown by comments about: shedding bureaucracy and a ‘can do’ approach; working with local groups, not rushing in on a rescue mission; and the importance of communication and regularly ‘checking in’ with colleagues.

Can we use this experience to push for more transformative change, and ways of living and working that will improve our capacity to respond ‘next time’. Ways that build on what we have now, and support sustainability in the system? Has the shock of Covid-19 created a space and readiness for transformation? We’d like to think that it has.

As one respondent put it: “Having a shared purpose can move mountains”

 

Post-script: Please continue the conversation with us as we build on what we think we knew, and what we have learned since. If our blogs resonate with you and you would be interested in writing a guest blog, just get in touch – wendy.lansdown@cambridgeshire.gov.uk

 

 

A Street level view of Lockdown

street level view pic

 By Charlotte Kirin  – on Twitter as @ckkirin

The Sunday before lockdown I took a template I saw on Facebook and printed out a simple leaflet with my name, address and phone number, offering to do shopping or be on the end of the phone for anybody who was self isolating or unwell, and I delivered one to each of the 40 houses in the street where I live.

 

Over the next few days I got texts and messages through the door from several people, every one of them offering help. We set up a Facebook group and a WhatsApp group, and suddenly the street where I’ve lived for a couple of years started to feel like a community, with links and chat and greetings that hadn’t been part of our previous, differently shaped lives.

 

I was aware that across this town and across villages and towns and cities all over the country, people were setting up amazing, strong, vibrant schemes and groups of varying complexity and size. I started seeing questions on social media about data protection, DBSs and how to handle money. By staying at street level, we avoided that. Anything that anyone did was just one neighbour helping out another, and between us we could be reasonably sure that we had awareness of each household, and the only thing that we needed to know about anyone was that they knew help was available if they wanted it.

 

Someone who has an organic vegetable box business set up a community food scheme, offering to deliver food to ‘community champions’ across the town, who would then distribute it, collecting donations from those who were able to contribute. I signed up to that. I also responded when the council asked for people who had set up any sort of community or mutual aid scheme and sent my details through to them.

 

Suddenly, I became the first person in the street to need the help I’d so glibly offered. I came down with symptoms of the virus, I had no paracetamol – there hadn’t been any in the shops for some time – and also, I had arranged to take in and distribute a food delivery and there was now no way I could do that. I put it to the street and handed it over. Very quickly I had paracetamol posted through my door and offers to manage a stall with the donated fruit and veg in an accessible garden. The job I would have taken on myself and which would have strengthened my connection to the households who responded suddenly became a joint, shared venture, with more varied and richer links for not being managed by a single person.

 

At the same time, I was aware that councils were stepping into new roles as they put in place the structures they needed to in order to operate to the scale the lockdown demanded of them. Of course, as a council, they had never stopped responding to essential need, and there was a clear awareness of that requirement to keep those duties at the centre of all that was being asked. Colleagues in established teams were adapting quickly to ensure that they were still available and responsive, taking on new ways of working not only in that they were likely to be based away from offices and relying on technology for contact, but also in guiding people through a changed and changing world.

 

With my learning from Neighbourhood Cares, I was drawn to think about all the consequences of the council and the community working in the same space to this extent. The public response had been so positive, so heart-warming so comprehensive. How did it fit with statutory, county wide provision? What had I learnt in this reaching out to my neighbours, and how did it fit with what we’d learnt in Soham?

 

One shared lesson from both settings is that the primary driver in people is to provide help, or at least to reciprocate, rather than to leap to accept it. And, for all the things that the council have to do, for all the things that they are good at, all the things that no other organisation can replace, the relationship between a person in need of social care and the council does not feel reciprocal.

 

Everything about a street scale relationship is shared. The Thursday night clap for the NHS is a weekly opportunity for me to say a face to face goodnight to other human beings. I am genuinely helped by Pam (shielding at 1a) announcing on Facebook which bin, when. The person who bought me paracetamol was someone I’d never spoken to before, but now we swap recipes for using the unpredictable vegetables that turn up in the community food scheme. Sarah next door taking on the food champion role while I couldn’t meant it became established and embedded in a way that it wouldn’t if I’d kept hold of it.

 

It’s hard for me to ask for and accept help, and there’s no reason for me to think it’s easier for anyone else. I would say that the best lessons I learnt in Soham were from people who were most reluctant to be recipients. The man who resisted the lifelong labels he’d been given and who became a loved and valued member of the team, showing us how we could work differently and how we could be led by the individual, if we just allowed ourselves to be. The family who’d turned their backs on services that had been telling them for years that they needed input because the way they lived wasn’t quite good enough, who found ways to support the place where they lived, and who, once that was recognised, were able to ask for support in return. And then the lessons we learnt from the Wednesday morning drop in where we frequently had more people making tea than there were drinking it, and where we saw over time that the links being made to make life easier and richer, or to make independence possible, were far more creative than anything the team, as employees of the council, could offer. The lesson seems to be that the council has a vital role in looking for spaces and opportunities, and for stepping in where there is a statutory duty that only they can meet, but that some of what’s needed is better done within the context of a relationship with a person, rather than an organisation.

 

The local authority hold enormous responsibility and they need rules and records. But in community there is no such contract. And the view from here is that the risk isn’t somebody lending a drill that hasn’t been PAT tested, or somebody without a DBS putting a bag of shopping on someone’s doorstep. The risk is that at the arrival of forms and boundaries and lists of responses, and the duty and desire to fix things, people might choose to back off, go back inside and shut their door, taking with them their gifts for conversation, tea making, coffee buying, memory sharing , joke telling, song singing, garden clearing, dog walking, phone answering, along with the hundreds of other small, human, unmeasurable connections that make a community.

 

At a neighbourhood level, at a scale where you see the people who are asking for and offering help on a daily basis, there are implicit safeguards that don’t need forms. As with the self managed team, where we held each other to a standard of working excellently, as neighbours, we can hold each other to account. It’s not about a contract, but about the knowledge that today we’re offering help, and tomorrow we might need it, and knowing that we might want forgiveness for a loud late night, or the temporary blocking of our narrow street with a delivery or a move. I’m not claiming paradise and I’m very aware that we’re not in direct contact with everyone, but that feels OK – there’s enough of us keeping enough of an eye. We don’t know what’s happening behind each other’s doors, and we are still, for the most part, presenting our best faces on those Thursday evenings when we come out and applaud. But nobody has had to meet criteria to be part of this community, no one has had to fill in a form, no one has approached anyone else with the intention of fixing them.

 

And because what’s happening at street level is not based on a relationship that assumes that one party has a provision and one has a need, and because the acts taking place are small and frequent and over a small distance, daily and undramatic, there is hope that these relationships will sustain and strengthen into whatever world we find ourselves in beyond this lockdown.

Caring Places, Building Healthy Communities – Right here, right now!

pic 2 caring places blog

by Wendy Lansdown

This week Charlotte and I were due to be supporting one of the 10 conversations (and hundreds of natters) at the Caring Places, Building Healthy Communities event with Buurtzorg Britain and Ireland.  We were excited about what promised to be a buzzy, stimulating, ideas-exchanging event.

And then came Covid… instead of sharing time and ideas with some of the most inspirational thinkers and doers in this space… Donna Hall, Hilary Cottam, Jos de Blok, to name just a few…. We – like most of the population – are at home… doing what we can, where we are, with the people we are connected with.

And yet, despite all the reasons to despair, there are many reasons for hope.  Charlotte and I have had very different experiences of Lockdown, which we plan to write about here in the coming days.  We would like you to share your experiences too. So, we have two scenarios, we invite your input… please take your pick, or even better… join in both!

  • Win, Learn, Change – A simple and favourite exercise for so many scenarios… and perfect for now…
  • New Week, New Learning – In this fast paced learning environment, we ask you to share yours in (approximately!) Week 1,2,3,4…and now

We’d love your contributions by the end of April, and we’ll weave a selection of reflections into our next blog….

It’s All About Relationships and Learning…

 relationships and learning pic

 

by Charlotte Kirin & Wendy Lansdown | find us on Twitter – @ckkirin @wendylansdown

 

We didn’t get round to publishing this one as soon as we planned, still relevant though we hope…

 

We get together when we can, usually first thing in the morning and in Soham, to talk about where we’re up to and what we’re thinking. It seemed like a good idea to collate some of that on here. It helps it not to get lost, and it might create more links, or awareness of where there are links.

 

This morning we reflected on an Integrated Neighbourhood launch event we had been to, led by a local GP. It provided an opportunity to share ideas about where community development should be focussing,  with GP’s and parish councillors,  volunteers, community rep’s and specialist nurses. From a social workers point of view, the lasting impression was of GP’s being human, stepping out of the surgery and stating a commitment to all the other areas of people’s lives. It was also a chance to explore a bit more the role of social work in Primary Care Networks.

 

We’ve booked tickets for Edinburgh, based on relationships formed on Twitter. Brigid Russell, Charlie Jones and Maureen Swannie are running a session about relationships, and it will be a chance for us to meet people in real life who we’ve come to appreciate and connect with on line. It’s a long way from Cambridge to Edinburgh but we have decided to take on the time and expense outside of work, because it feels important and interesting, and because it prioritises learning.

 

We had a phone call with Mark and Sarah from Gateshead this week too. There is something both comfortable (other people understand what we’re trying to do)  and motivating (there’s more opportunities, more to try, it’s happening out there in the world) about talking to people who discuss responses to the big problems in terms of relationships and learning. Mark’s emphasis on learning, and his concern that it is seen as a luxury by some, felt very close to some of what we’ve talked about and that was written about in our sheep-dipping blog!

 

We talked about Radical Help, Hilary Cottam’s book on these subjects, and tried to feel through where work that is effective (and can be evidenced to be good for communities and individuals and workforces) gets lost as it moves up through the system, and gets further away from the person. We created a visual image of people -with all the sounds and smells and shapes of people,  all the connections with others, all the community stuff, all the being held in a web of relationships and history –  being inevitably reduced to measured units as they travel up through the organisation, all the edginess and messiness and fascination of the individual being lost. Of course it makes sense for senior decision makers to take traditional steps to manage risk, and of course they have to look for one size solutions, and stick to policy. They have a huge job, a terrifying amount of responsibility, and a shrinking resource. It’s just, that’s not how community works.

 

We’re excited in Cambridgeshire to be part of exploring how our Think Communities approach  can tease out a way forward in a changing world, where bureaucracy has a valuable place (when efficient and effective), and, where suited, the public sector collectively and collaboratively also plays an enabling role recognising and valuing the glorious technicolour of people’s lives, being the facilitator who connects and enables people to build on their passions and skills, as part of a rich inter-connected community.

 

We also talked about the social worker from the Older Peoples team, hot-desking in the library, who we’d overheard talking passionately about a couple she’s working with and who she is trying to move mountains for, to keep them together. How much she cared and how clearly she saw the important bits. How hard she was having to fight with the person on the other end of the phone to get the truth of these people and their situation across, to make it about more than a physical environment and an agreed spend.

 

Relationships and learning are recurring themes in all the places where good things happen.

 

The Gift of Community

by Charlotte Kirin

shallow focus photography of yellow star lanterns
Photo by 一 徐 on Pexels.com

Some of the old Neighbourhood Cares team went back to Soham to distribute gifts from the Giving Tree, organised by the community pharmacy.

We spent an hour in what had been our office in the library, and it was like it had always been – Leigh told us how much she loves her new job with young adults, and how she has retained her determination to change the world. Sian talked about how welcomed and valued she’d felt in the Older People’s team she’d gone onto, although she has decided to move onto a post in a school in Soham to fit better with her life, in a way that Neighbourhood Cares team could accommodate, but is more difficult in a large area team.

Sian’s young daughter was there too, making labels for the gifts. Wendy, who still does some work in Soham, was there, straight from a meeting with some of the members of Soham Community Association. Janine the librarian came in for a minute to catch up and share Christmas wishes.

Then we took presents and went visiting. I went first to Louise, whose welcome and thanks far outweighed any gift I could give her. Louise still goes to he drop in and to the friendly dogs event, and is still in regular contact with Wendy, and perhaps most powerfully of all she has the telephone number of someone else we worked with in Soham, someone who understands depression and grief, and the need for connection, and the feeling of being told by services that the way you live makes you a cause for concern and a subject of referrals. Louise and Margaret’s friendship is one of the unexpected, unplannable, unmeasurable legacies of the Neighbourhood Cares team.

I went from there to see Jonathan, who we had worked alongside for a long time to make it possible for him to remain in his own home, until he ceased to recognise it as his own home and started getting lost, in his living room, in the street, and then on the main roads. We planned a move for him, into a residential setting on the edge of the town, a difficult step that I could never feel totally comfortable with – Neighbourhood Cares existed in part to try and prevent  those moves from having to happen, on the basis that people are nearly always happier and healthier in their own homes. When there seemed to be no other way, we argued strongly for Jonathan to be in a setting in Soham, where he could continue to attend drop in sometimes, and could stay in touch with a close friend who lives in the town. We also managed to persuade the home, over a period of a couple of weeks and through gentle persistence and exposure, that Jonathan’s dog Jack should be accommodated too.

Jonathan, Jack and I were delighted to see each other. Jonathan, who has the most wonderful, multi lingual vocabulary, also has aphasia, which results sometimes in beautiful poetry. “How is it Jonathan, living here?” I asked, aware of the inevitable restrictions and infringements of being in a residential home. “I feel I am resting in the right nest for me” he said, and I absorbed the relief and gratitude of being able to believe that the work we had done with him had been the right thing, the best we could do.

While I was there, a member of staff introduced herself to me as the daughter of Sam and Sheila. Earlier in the year, I’d worked with the family to arrange for Sheila to have a short term stay there while adaptations were made to her home. Again, we’d argued that even for a short stay, there were important reasons that Sheila should remain in Soham, so that Sam could visit, and could keep her up to date with the work being done to put in place the tracking, new bathroom and extended bedroom that would allow her family to continue to deliver the majority of the support she needs. While Sheila was in the residential setting, her daughter had got talking to the manager, and had subsequently started working there for a few hours a day. I was able to send my love to Sheila and Sam, and to marvel at another small link that was made as a result of place based working, There’s some economic benefit there, alongside the human value, but I don’t know of a way to measure it.

The team met up again in the churchyard where there were carols with the band of the Soham Comrades Club, and refreshments provided by one of the Scout groups.  Eleanor, the vicar who worked with us to make sure that Peter had the funeral he wanted, Xanadu and all, greeted us, and we got talking to somebody who has just joined the community association. We sang carols and heard readings about Christmas and making a home in the place where you find yourself, and connections, and kindness.

Happy Christmas Soham.

Yesterday Neighbourhood Cares Worker, today Place-based enabler…

blog montage

by Wendy Lansdown

The Neighbourhood Cares pilot has ended. We’ve learnt so much, our organisation is putting much of that learning into practice. With heavy hearts we’ve left the jobs we loved. Most of us are staying in roles within Cambridgeshire County Council. We’ve decided to continue this blog to share how we use our Neighbourhood Cares learning in our new roles.

I’m lucky to have stepped into a new role which links to and helps proliferate learning from Neighbourhood Cares. My focus is on bringing Cambridgeshire County Council’s Think Communities approach to life in the district of East Cambridgeshire (which includes Soham where our pilot was based). Working in partnership with communities, public sector partners and businesses to build strong communities from the inside out. We will be taking off our lanyards, listening really hard to each other, building a shared path and accepting there are no magic bullets. It is all about devolving power as close to people and communities as effectively possible, shaping this together with communities themselves.

It’s week two and I’m not going to pretend that I have had any epiphanies just yet, but I do want to share my experiences on one day which left me excited about the potential of working this way.

Here’s my day…

Charlotte (a Neighbourhood Cares colleague) and I are both morning people, we’ve developed a habit of 8am get-togethers to hatch ideas for collaboration. Charlotte’s new role is about ‘Changing the Conversation’ in Adult Social Care, so together we scratched our heads about how we can work differently and invite others to join in. We reflected on how we have learnt that what worked for us was being part of the community, not looking in on, gatekeeping or assessing, rather having conversations with equals and shaping a local response together with all the unique attributes we each bring as individuals and organisations, whether that be a skill, a space, or a personality trait.

Popping outside to put up an A Board to advertise the Drop In, I bump into Ben taking his son to pre-school. Ben collaborated with us in the early days of Neighbourhood Cares, leading an intergenerational rock-painting workshop when the craze for hiding, seeking and sharing the stone artworks swept the country. He has a lovely way of naturally connecting people through a shared interest and a contagious curiosity for all things community. For these reasons and many more I was delighted when he told me he is applying to be a Co-op Member Pioneer in Soham. Linked to local Co-op stores, these progressive four hour per week paid roles are all about connecting and mobilising communities. These Pioneers will be brilliant community partners in our Think Communities approach.

I walk back in with Jackie, a social worker from the Older People’s team, she’s arrived to support the Touchpoint Drop In sessions. Originally set up by Neighbourhood Cares, these are now community-led by Royal British Legion who invite Jackie along, and link her up with attendees as needed, for example if someone would like specific advice on statutory care or a request for a Food Bank Voucher. Jackie has a chat with everyone and then is on hand if needed whilst working just next door in the office of the Library. Today there are no calls on her time, rather a buzz of positive energy.  As I leave Pat is arriving, keen to share news that an idea she has nurtured for many months is gaining traction. She has a mobility scooter herself, as do many of her friends. When she no longer needs it Pat would like it to gift it to the community to be loaned as needed, she found her friends felt similarly about their mobility vehicles. To create this pooled community resource which will make the scooters accessible to all; Pat needs collaborators. It’s brilliant to hear that the Parish Council have offered to help with collections, a local business will do the servicing with coordination being the responsibility of Charles Warner.

My morning meeting is with the Integrated Neighbourhood team for our Primary Care Network (PCN). It’s so exciting to be working with colleagues from the GP surgery, Clinical Commissioning Group and Sustainable Transformation Unit. My concerns that this may be a case of the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ were dissipated immediately at the first meeting when I saw the passion and commitment to work together. The Clinical Leads for the two local PCNs are Dr Richard Brixey and Dr Zoe Hutchinson who both have a flair for Systems Leadership. After just a couple of meetings we have both a PCN What’s App Group to share ideas, and an Innovation Fund bid which looks to grow the Neighbourhood Cares approach in a cross sector partnership.

Straight after the meeting Anwar – who we met in a previous blog had asked to meet with myself and Ashling, a new colleague in the health service who is supporting the development of Integrated Neighbourhoods. Anwar had spotted the similarity of the aims of Ashling’s work and that of Neighbourhood Cares. Already an active advocate for the Neighbourhood Cares approach, Anwar offered to extend his role to cover both areas of work. Ashling accepted with delight. Since then, Anwar has now met with Val, one of the new Social Prescribing Link Workers to encourage more people to attend the Diabetes Peer Support Group that Anwar set up earlier in the year and explore other ways to work together.

Next it was over to the rural village of Sutton to meet Rosie, the inspiring Parish Clerk who has successfully applied to our Innovate and Cultivate fund for their Parish Council to set up a Timebank. I was impressed by the council’s ambition, their plans to sustain the Timebank long term and their vision for engaging the whole community. Pleased too to see Sutton become the fourth Timebank in the district to embrace Timebanking – each with a very different feel, shaped by their community.

After a break I’m back in Soham meeting Bren, the chair of the recently formed Soham Community Association. We pushed back the library shelves and set up for our jointly hosted Time-4-Soham event – an evening gathering which formed part of a local campaign to encourage people to give their time locally. 17 organisations came together with stalls and short talks to promote their opportunities. At the end of the evening we had over a dozen people signed up for everything from Pumpkin Fair helpers, to marshalling at the soon-to-launch Soham parkrun. A lovely side-effect of the evening was some rich conversations between the organisations attending…just one of which saw the Nellie the tuk-tuk volunteers linking up with Community Sparx to explore whether the app that this Community Interest Company has developed might help coordinate community transport in Soham… I love how community conversations lead to new local solutions.

Personally, I’m relieved and thrilled that the freedom and trust I found in the Neighbourhood Cares team has carried forward into my new role. For me this is fundamental – allowing frontline workers the space to work from a shared value base and have creative responses to the specific context of the people and place they are working alongside. Our next step might be – similarly to Neighbourhood Cares – to develop an agreed framework for our Think Communities partnership, within which the team have autonomy to collaborate imaginatively and work with the strengths and quirks of their unique place.

My Journey

frank 2

By Sian Verducci

As I sit here and reflect on the past 2 years and how we created Neighbourhood Cares Soham. A few lyrics from Frank Sinatra came to mind and slightly adapted.

“And now the end is near, and so we face our final case loads.

My colleagues I’ll say it clear, are best of friends of which I’m certain.

We’ve lived a life that’s full and travelled each and every street!

But more much more than this”

“We did it our way!”

 

We were given the opportunity to build a service and transform social care as we know it.

We found a better way of working for everyone who lived in Soham and for all the team involved.

When the team first arrived no one knew exactly what would come.

But over the next few weeks and months the team grew and became great friends all with the same goal to give the very best service to everyone who lived in Soham. To do what was right for each and every one of them.

This was the key to our team’s success and being accepted into the local community.

By having a visual presence and an open door the barriers to us were broken down.

We became the place people could trust and knew they would be welcomed in with a smile, a friendly face and that important cup of tea or coffee.

Somewhere you can feel safe no matter what the problem and they knew we would listen and help.

We’ve had so many memories happy and sad over the two years and too many to tell you them all.

We have celebrated birthdays and organised one special day, trips out, doggy day care, setting up a successful drop in and monthly coffee and cake where anyone can come for a chat, advice and a drink.

We’ve also had some crazy ideas and made them reality such as Nellie the Tuk Tuk with the support of the amazing local community.

We have loved watching people come out of their shells and giving them a purpose in life again.

Helping colleagues progress and unlimited support whether it was to do with work or home life. This makes it all the harder to say goodbye.

We have helped ensure people get their wishes especially when thinking about end of life plans, a very much taboo subject which can be very hard to talk about, but having honest conversations at the right time and getting the correct professionals involved has meant people have been able to have a dignified death and in the way and places they want while being supported. Being their voice when they no longer felt able to fight and say what they really want.

By being local and building close relationships with professionals we have been able to be responsive with support from district nurses, MDT, O.T, GP’s the pharmacy and local care agencies.

Working together is key. The trust that has been built up has meant that we all know we would only be asking if necessary.

Now we are coming to an end I don’t know what I will miss the most.

The amazing team that is Neighbourhood Cares whatever job you all go onto you will be the biggest asset to those teams and continue to push the barriers/change how social care can be delivered from all your experiences. I hope to see you all within your new roles within adult social care when I start with the Older Peoples team East Cambs.

To the people that we have supported Thank you for welcoming us and making us feel part of the community.

To the volunteers Thank you for all that you have done because without you there is so much that we wouldn’t have been able to achieve. Keep up the good work supporting each other and the community.

This journey has been amazing:

“I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried. I’ve had my fill, my share of losing and now as tears subside, I find it all so amusing.

To think we did all that, and may I say – not in a shy way”

“We did it our way!”

Three Words and our Film…

Our colleague Harpreet has had the unenviable task of bottling the essence of Neighbourhood Cares on camera, she’s done so admirably in this short film.  To set the scene we thought we would share three words from our team members to sum up what Neighbourhood Cares has meant to us…

Innovative, positive, dedicated…

Strength, growth, openness…

Imaginative, connected, kind….

Community, family, positive…

Best job ever….

..

    

 

Neighbourhood Cares – It’s all about Connections, Relationships …and Sheep-Dipping!

sheep dip

by Wendy Lansdown

I’m passionate about communities and what people can achieve in the place they live and love. I’m lucky to have two part-time roles within Cambridgeshire County Council that are all about this. Different roles, different directorates, different job descriptions. Same organisation, same aims, same values.

In Neighbourhood Cares we work in the fenland market town of Soham to help people live happy and independent lives in their community. Working alongside a team of social workers who see people’s strengths first has been amazing. When working with individuals they start by asking ‘What does a good life mean to you?’ occasionally it ends up with an assessment, often not. Rich conversations lead us down a different path. A few examples…

… Jack describes himself as having ‘mental health issues and whole heap of anxiety stuff going on’, he joined us at our second Soham Friendly Dogs session. These were inspired by a lady – who unable to care for her own – desperately missed having a dog. A group of volunteers responded by bring their dogs to the library once a month. Jack finds this a comfortable place to be, so much so that he became a volunteer and has now extended that role outside the group, walking dogs for people who can no longer do this themselves. He hopes to turn this new hobby into a microenterprise.

… We teamed up with Mike from Royal British Legion when we realised our organisations share some aims. We now co-host our Big Wednesday Pop In where 40+ people come together to hear about things of local interest (exercise classes, local history, social activities), and importantly to chat and connect with neighbours. When the Neighbourhood Cares pilot comes to an end this autumn, the Pop In continues under Mike’s leadership.

…We supported Bob and Andrew through the death of Bob’s wife, Andrew’s mum. Using their gifts as skilled gardeners we helped them find their way in the world again, by simply connecting them with people who need and value their support, we tell their story in an earlier blog.

… Last week a Repair café hosted at Soham Library appeared on Shop Well for Less – it was lovely to see some of our community friends on the TV, and people commented on how pleased they are that Soham library welcomes community projects. But all we really did was say yes when Umesh approached us and asked if we could push back the shelves and make space for some volunteer repairers. And in many ways that’s been what our pilot’s been all about – working out how we can say yes more often. In a time when the public sector is stretched close to breaking point, we often feel apologetic for what we as public servants are no longer able to do. It’s important to remember that we do still have a lot to offer, and whilst we may not have the workforce we once had we do have some great spaces and skills and we’re lucky to work alongside creative, inspiring communities who sprinkle fairy-dust in our buildings, if only we open our doors and our minds and work alongside them.

Repair cafe

My second job is in the Strengthening Communities team where one of my roles is to lead the Time Credit Programme working with Tempo social enterprise. Time Credits are a community currency which people earn for volunteering with participating organisations. For an hour of time given they receive a credit which can be spent on a huge range of social, leisure and learning activities from after school clubs, to swimming, to entry to the Tower of London. In Cambridgeshire we work with 90 organisations – community groups, schools, churches, Child and Family Centres who offer credits for everything from reading with children to offering companionship, to IT support. Over 70,000 hours of time have been given.

Time Credits are about thanking people for their time and encouraging more people to contribute to their community, in the process helping older people, strengthening families and tackling poverty. Neighbourhood Cares is about Jack, Mike, Bob, Andrew and Umesh. Overseeing a programme is about focusing on strategic priorities to help our organisation cope with austerity– Supporting Independence, Strengthening Families, and Increasing Social Mobility.

But in the end it’s all about the same thing… people. Their strengths, their quirks, and their individual (often hidden) talents, which once connected with others can create community magic. It’s all about building on what’s strong, not what’s wrong, and in Cormac Russell’s words it’s about ‘getting a life not a service’ – except, on rare occasions when that’s what someone needs.

It feels to me like those two lenses – strategy and grassroots – need to meet more often. Each speak to the same truth – by valuing and connecting people we enable them to help themselves and others. I was late to the party today when I realised how these two overlapping worlds say the same thing in a different language. In the Strengthening Communities team we’re helping the public sector develop the Think Communities approach. It’s all about:

  1. People – resilient communities where people feel connected and able to help themselves and each other
  2. Places – that are integrated, possess a sense of place and support resilience
  3. Systems – in which partners listen, engage and align and support community-led activity

And in Neighbourhood Cares we talk about:

  1. Relationships – being human and connecting people to share their passions
  2. The power of the library – a place where people feel comfortable to come and connect
  3. Collaboration – working with our community partners to support and enable people to discover what a good life means to them

The penny dropped…

  • People = Relationships
  • Place = Library (or café, church, park bench)
  • Systems = Collaboration

And one world supports the other. In recent months we’ve introduced Time Credits to Soham. We are learning that by putting time credits in the hands of local organisations and inviting them to use them as a community tool breathes life into this town in ways we couldn’t predict.

Volunteers earn when they support our events, fix stuff at a Repair Café or help someone apply for a blue badge. We’re having conversations about taking this to a deeper level, inviting Soham partners to help us think creatively about how Time Credits – a community tool to fuel local connections – can help develop our sense of place, we haven’t been disappointed…

….Viva have stepped forward to offer seats at their brilliant local performances in exchange for time credits – most recently with Sister Act, which went on to sell out at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Sister Act TC

… Soham Lodge, a local nursing home have asked if they can join. This nursing home doesn’t fit the stereotypical picture, they’ve just held their own Pride Festival and are up for thinking differently about their community role. Their first idea was to offer their accessible bathing facilities in exchange for Time Credits…our team have started a mental list of people who dream of having a bath again.

…Next month we’re bringing together local partners who want to become part of the local Time Credits story to work out how this might all translate in our community… I can’t wait to see what we come up with.

And perhaps there is something amongst this tumble of ideas that can help us as an organisation grapple with how we make the Think Communities approach into a living and breathing thing. Colleagues have started to capture it with this film. Perhaps by placing Neighbourhood Cares firmly in the Think Communities space we can break new ground and create our path together by…

 

  1. Continuing this blog….’Neighbourhood Cares…the Diaspora’ to chart how each of our team members takes our learning into new roles and use it as a compass.
  2. Holding a Soham focus. My colleague Charlotte and I both have roles which could enable us to continue to explore the potential in Soham, for me within my Strengthening Communities role, for Charlotte in a new, progressive ‘Changing the Conversation’ role in Adult Social Care. We’d cherish the opportunity to see whether, by investing a small amount of time, we can keep helping to connect, cheerlead and collaborate with this community as it continues to flourish.
  3. Developing a Learning Site. We’ve met amazing partners through our work in Soham. With Viva Arts and Community Group – we’ve bought a tuk tuk. Community owned, volunteer-fuelled local transport for the town. Together, we’re hatching a plan to grow our partnership, deepen our connections, build relationships, and tap into local talent, in order to – in the words of one of our volunteers – ‘Make Soham Shine’

And, whilst making Soham shine, can we help bring the two worlds together. This market town can offer a place where we can learn together…

 

  1. A place to explore…

a) How can we use the library to enable even more community action? By offering it as a place where people can bring ideas to life without cost, we can enable brilliant stuff to happen easily. Unpretentious and meaningful stuff that simply brings people together – Anwar had the idea for a Diabetes Peer Support group one month, he started it the next. Because there’s no cost he didn’t need a bank account. He also didn’t need a constitution, policies, insurance or the plethora of other stuff that stops so many brilliant ideas before they start. He simply brings people together in a space and provides the chance to chat and share.

b) Free use of the library is a generous offer and we need to acknowledge that the library has to bring in income. We’ve started discussing this with people who use it and they are telling us they want there to be reciprocal arrangement. In return for some free use of space they’d willingly give their time. One idea is for them to become part of the wider library team, Debbie, our Area Library Manager described a ‘custodians’ role. Soham has never quite established a Library Friends Group, something that thrives in other communities. And yet this library has friends, some of whom love it for its books, and some for so much more….it’s space, its welcoming atmosphere, the fact that there’s no label above the door identifying those who enter as having a problem. In a practical way, our custodians can help us bring in cash – opening up in the evening for new room bookings and promoting the space so that more people discover and use this community gem… By teaming up with Viva, and the recently formed Soham Community Association we also want to say yes to more new ideas and help bring them to life.

c) It’s wonderful that the pilot has not only generated learning which will be embedded across the council, it has also created a legacy for Soham itself.   Our Locality teams will be using Soham Library as a base, and in so doing strengthen their links with this community. There is also ‘Enhancing the Conversation’ training being planned with library volunteers and staff to equip them with the skills to strengthen and deepen the precious conversations they have with residents as part of their roles.

2. Nurturing tender shoots of community activity and provide fertile ground for the new…

Helping to build strong foundations – just this year a host of new initiatives have taken their fledgling steps in the town; Soham Men’s Shed, the Monday Club (way too cool to be called a volunteer run Day Centre), Soham Community Association and, of course Nellie the tuk tuk. All spearheaded by strong competent community leaders. The council’s role isn’t to lead, we don’t need to, but can we connect, support and facilitate as they learn to fly?

There is an appetite from our growing volunteer team to test the boundaries, to think creatively about how much can local people support others to ‘have a life’ and therefore not ‘need a service’.

One way the team are considering doing that is through supporting people to build Community Circles

3. Sharing and Collaborating…one of our directors talks of ‘sheep dipping’ a positive contagion of ideas through experience. We want this to become relentlessly infectious – across the county, across sectors, regardless of hierarchy. We’re taking inspiration from Barnwood Trust’s Stewardship Circles. More about this idea in a future blog…We’ve learnt that it’s important to acknowledge our home grown talent, and that this can be really useful when it’s connected with external expertise.   Through the Adult Positive Challenge programme we’ve started to work with experts such as Impower who have a deep knowledge of Behavioural Insights, and through Think Communities we’ve met Dawn Plimmer from Collaborate CIC and found out about her work with Northumbria University’s Toby Lowe, exploring the new and wonderful world of Human Learning Systems a world which resonates with our own.

 

 

 

There’s been so much learning, I could continue, but this blog is already way too long. Just a few of the things I’ve learnt which mean a lot to me, and I haven’t found space for…

  • Life isn’t linear. People’s lives are complex and it’s rare that one intervention is the elixir, only by collaborating and sharing the responsibility (and then often the joy) with neighbours friends, community partners and colleagues, can we have real impact
  • Working in a place – like Soham – that sees itself as a community is just brilliant, and having the library as the community space we work from has made so much sense.
  • Relationships are at the heart of all we do. It’s ok to be friendly… Informal doesn’t mean unprofessional. Not everything needs a form, a conversation is a much better way to start. We’ve found that by having a human response you often come up with responses that are tailored to and with the person. Sticking within the law and our budget there is a lot of space for creativity.
  • I feel very lucky to be in roles which give me a rare mix of perspectives within the organisation i.e. on the ground working with people and communities, and also a glimpse into the strategic world. I find this crossover offers valuable insights and whilst my roles have happened by happy accident, perhaps it is something the organisation could consider creating more deliberately?
  • The Buurtzorg way has so much to offer; its simplicity, really devolving power – ensuring decisions are made as close to the person as possible, its values, its dynamics, and importantly, the focus on equal voice within the team. I’ve loved working in this team with amazing colleagues, together we tried to bottle the essence of our learning in our First Anniversary Sway.   Whilst a year old, all this learning still holds true, though we should probably re-visit and add more recent reflections.

This is the toughest and the best job I’ve ever had, and we’re ready to share our learning, but I for one don’t feel quite ready to leave….we’re not done learning just yet.

This machine works

by Charlotte Kirin

steampunk

There’s something about the intricacy of communities that make them able to change, adapt, respond. They can be contradictory and disruptive, and there they are at the end of the day, still a community.

There’s something about institutions that makes it hard for them to change course. They are the place where things are measured, written down, checked and processed. It’s hard for them to adapt, even when they really really want to.

We’ve been asked by the institution to try being properly part of the community led by the people of Soham and managing ourselves. The institution has taken the brave and unusual step of asking us to move out of the structure it has created and has trusted us to do the right thing. We’ve been delighted to do so. We’ve never taken for granted how lucky we are to be in this position. We’re committed and determined and passionate about being the best we can be.

One of the people we’ve been able to get to know expressed what we do by saying “this machine works”. I picture it as a very steam punk machine, made up of found things, and tended and maintained by all who come across it, tinkering, oiling, testing, adding functions. It’s very much a community machine. It can make coffee and find carpenters, it can sort out overgrown gardens and transport people around the town. It can negotiate getting emergency support in place without going through brokerage. It can walk dogs, find venues for meetings, take steps to safeguard people at risk. It can provide toast and sing happy birthday. It can welcome students and develop social workers. If it sputters or smokes, we know where the tools are kept and we know people who can fix it.

This particular  machine wouldn’t necessarily work in another town. The elements that have created it are local and known and trusted, and it needs to be tended by the people who built it. But there are other machines waiting to be fired up in other communities.

I believe that the institution wants to be more community, more adaptable and responsive. Maybe what we’ve learnt is that what feels like a big step, from institution to community, is actually a series of small steps, component parts to create a type of machine that can change, adapt, respond, change, adapt, respond…