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…

 

We Love to Call the Library Home

Library montage snip.PNG

by Wendy Lansdown

Walk into Soham Library on a Wednesday morning and it’s full of life. When we started our Drop In in the early days of Neighbourhood Cares we weren’t sure what we were creating, we just promised a place where the local community could come for free where there would be a kettle and someone to listen. First week we helped someone apply for a blue badge, second week no one came.

Eighteen months on, the place is filled with laughter, a regular gang who attend and new people popping in for advice, or just a cuppa.   It’s evolved based on what people want it to be and the energy they bring. Sometimes we play cards, sometimes we just chat, next week a new attendee is going to share her passion for knitting.

Dave, Anwar and Andrew are regular volunteers and we offer them Time Credits to thank them for their valued support. They take charge of refreshments, help the conversation flow and make connections…lots and lots of connections. From lift sharing to gardening, support through the tough times to DIY, the Drop In has led to people getting to know each other, and staying in touch outside of the sessions.

It’s come to be a place of respite for some. People enjoy visiting the Drop In whilst their carers have a short break – or sometimes just join us in another part of the Library for individual support or for one of the groups which run in parallel. One is the Diabetes Support Group, this is Anwar’s brainchild, he has diabetes himself and wanted to provide a space to share advice with peers. With a helping hand from Diabetes UK the group now runs once a month, with the local surgery and pharmacy helping connect people with the group.

We are so pleased to call the Library our home. It works, people feel comfortable coming in, there’s no label above the door that implies you are coming here because you have a problem.

The room our team use is crowded with items that members of the community have passed to us to benefit other people – wheelchairs, walking frames, and various other things that might help someone to maintain independence. Then there’s the ‘knitted goods’, the home made greetings cards and the boxes of chocolates that are regularly donated for our monthly raffle and other community projects.

We’ve welcomed people to create with us. An older lady we work with was no longer able to have her own dog, it was heart-breaking for her. On hearing this two local dog lovers came up with an idea and within weeks Soham Friendly Dogs was born! A bunch of friendly dogs and friendly people come together once a month in the Community room, again with our trusty kettle. A simple idea that makes a real difference.

We work with amazing Library staff who see the Library as being about so much more than books. Carol and Janine know everyone, everyone knows them and finds them approachable and helpful. They are good listeners and put people in touch with things that work for them…books, events, people. Once a month Carol runs Engage in the Afternoon, the community room buzzes with a range of topics from Witchcraft to an Auctioneer’s tales. She builds ideas with people. The Soham community laments the demise of the local market, through conversation Carol and one of our volunteers have come up with the idea of the Library hosting a Farmers Market come Arts and Crafts Fair. It’s at ideas stage and there’s more thinking to do, but with these two at the helm, I think it can fly.

Michelle, another library team member is also creative, she was the inventor of the House of Horrors, turning the unseen rooms of the Library into a truly scary Halloween experience. The local college got involved in a Zombie walk to promote it and suddenly the library was the place-to-be for teenagers in Soham.

The Library also helped to incubate the newly formed Soham Community Association (SCA). The idea for which arose at a Community Lunch – a quarterly informal meeting of Community partners which is hosted in the library. Attendees identified a need for a new organisation to build partnership and communication in the town. The Library provided a meeting space in the early days   whilst the Association found its feet with advice from Ben from Support Cambridgeshire. Our team have been able to share with SCA some of the themes we hear in terms of challenges facing the community. A recurring one has been the lack of transport even at a hyper-local level, it was this that led to the #Nellie4Soham campaign which, with Soham Community Association’s support has just bought a Tuk Tuk which will be fuelled by volunteers as local community transport. Nellie is due to meet the community soon at a Soham Community Association event. Neighbourhood Cares will be cutting her ribbon to welcome her along with partners Viva Arts and Community Group and Soham Men’s Shed. It’s all about strong local partnership. Partnership has led to the Library hosting a range of other activities too, from Repair Cafés to Volunteer Fairs, Dementia support sessions with the Alzheimers’ Society to intergenerational rock painting, it’s proved the perfect home.

The Library is currently being refurbished and part of the building converted into Little Wombatz Pre-school. Initially we heard fears from residents about losing part of their beloved library, but it wasn’t long before people started spotting opportunities, wondering if there was a way to link our new neighbours into Library life. The manager of Little Wombatz Lucy is at the heart of the Soham Community (in fact, she’s just been named Townsperson of the Year!) and she’s keen to work with our team to explore the chance to develop intergenerational interaction, so far suggestions from the community have included inviting the toddlers to our Coffee mornings and even perhaps Storytime with Friendly Dogs, watch this space…

‘I had Lost my Focus in Life’

Anwar Mikha

by Anwar Khan, Neighbourhood Cares Volunteer

2017 was a truly annus horribilis for me, after a long period of illness my dear wife passed away in November, I was really in doldrums, as I had lost my focus in life.  In January I decided to do something positive and refocus, so I went to Soham Library to see what volunteering opportunities were available.

Serendipitously Neighbourhood Care Soham team were holding a Volunteer for Soham event that day, I looked at opportunities with a range of organisations and chose the library.  Neighbourhood Cares are based there and my role soon grew to encompass supporting the work of their team too.

With their support, encouragement; and I will go as far as to say a degree of affection my role has become more than a volunteer as I am involved in the following activities:-

  • Co hosting the monthly tea and cake drop-in
  • Blue badge/buss pass on line applications
  • Computer buddy
  • Time Credit management
  • Self help Diabetes group
  • member of the Soham Community Association
  • Scam Awareness Champion

All of this would not have been possible without unstinting support and encouragement by the team, their contribution to get me through my despair has no monetary value.  As far as I am concerned the teams input into changes that have occured in my life is incalculable.

“that’s not us…..”

Charlotte's Quote

by Charlotte Kirin 

A while ago I found a note that I’d written to myself – “our fears are in the boot of my car”. I had no idea where it came from. It sounded like a line written by my favourite band, The National, but it wasn’t that. Or something said by someone who was starting to lose elements of language, the links between concepts. We work with a few people who are facing that.

It came back to me when we were talking about some uncertainty with what will happen next regarding our team. We had got as far as writing down ours fears on a piece of flipchart paper, which team member Leigh had then put in her car. I’d written it down, liking the poetry of it.

This week we met with senior managers to talk about what we’d like to see happen next with Neighbourhood Cares. We talked about how lucky we feel to be able to work in the way we do, and  I was asked what I feared for myself if this role ended. I talked about a call I’d taken from the concerned neighbour of a woman whose husband, who provided her with care, had gone into hospital. The person didn’t live in Soham (our one and only criteria for involvement) but it needed a response that I couldn’t provide so I started to make calls to the areas of the organisation that I thought would be able to respond, only to be told repeatedly “it’s not us”. First call, second call, third call, “not us”.

My response to the manager who asked me what my fears were was to say that I never again wanted to work in a team where we would respond to a person with “it’s not us”.

Our fears are out of the boot of Leigh’s car, and on the table. And we would welcome any support or ideas about how we can keep working with this community, doing the job we want to do.