A Local Viral Ice Bucket Collaboration?

By Wendy Lansdown | On Twitter @wendylansdown

On Sunday Patrick Quinn, the founder of the Ice Bucket challenge sadly died aged 37 of motor neurone disease.  What an amazing legacy and inspiration he leaves.  It made me nostalgic for that year when icy water brought so much fun and awareness, and personally at the end of that long hot summer (or is that just my rosy specs?) I got involved in a local community off-shoot – the Nice Bucket Challenge which saw neighbours exchanging buckets of lovely stuff… including many courgettes!

Every day I’m amazed by the creativity of individuals and the ingenuity of communities working together to move mountains.  Just recently this has been super-charged, and it drew me back to our blog to grasp the opportunity to appreciate, reflect, and ponder on how through our Think Communities approach we (folk in the public and voluntary sector) can support in the most useful way and amplify the effect, or perhaps proliferate through positive contagion, as we wrote about in Neighbourhood Cares in the days before Coronavirus.  I would really value your insights and help on this – please do get in touch.

Since the beginning of the pandemic a few East Cambs organisations have worked together to host a Zoom forum, a monthly space for community connectors, conveners and leaders to get together, share learning and collaborate.  One of the core themes emerging has been an increasing concern about an imminent mental health crisis, and forum members feeling ill-equipped to respond.  After an interesting discussion and exchange of experiences at one meeting, one of the Mutual Aid group members invited Tony Sigrist from Talking FreEly along to our next.  What a brilliant invitation… Tony had founded this organisation to raise Mental Health awareness and skills in our community.  He had the experience, knowledge and passion that people supporting their neighbours were calling for.  We formed a partnership, Tony kindly providing his time pro-bono to train up to 100 volunteers in the district on the Mental Health Aware course via Zoom. With Talking FreEly jointly funding the materials alongside East Cambs District Council, and the County Council promoting and coordinating.  So far over 60 people have been trained, with superb feedback, including one person who is planning to go on to the advanced course and become a mental health champion for her community.

Some of the towns and villages have their own online networks for collaboration. Following Neighbourhood Cares, I feel privileged to continue to be involved in one in Soham where a bunch of us from the local Foodbank, churches, schools, social prescribers, library staff and community association link up.  As so often happens, some of the best discussions happen before the meeting really begins. As I joined, a District Council colleague was sharing how her small village of Coveney had been adapting their usual events for pandemic times and the Soham vicar’s ears pricked up at the idea of mini-fetes.  Unable to have the usual scale of festivities, Coveney residents had adapted one big event into a series of mini ones spread across a month rather than a day.  A few chats and a visit later and Soham had its own mini fete with its own local flavour … complete with pumpkin fair paraphernalia and more…

The following week my colleagues Agnes and Yannick brought together our Time Credits Earn Partners.  Tempo Time Credits are earned when people give time to participating organisations and can be redeemed on a wide range of activities from a swim at the local pool to entry to the Tower of London. As with so many areas of life, it’s been tough lately – challenges for earning with many volunteering opportunities on hold, and equally with spending – almost all venues are closed.   Again the meeting provided a good connection point, a place for people with a shared sense of purpose and values to share ideas.  This time the connection sparked a brilliant idea from the Linda at Pinpoint – the Parent Carer Forum for Cambridgeshire, run by parents for parents. One of their biggest challenges currently is the extreme isolation of the families they represent.  Discussing this issue led to a creative idea for both earn and spend…. Where children’s birthdays could not be celebrated in the traditional way, then their day could be made special by volunteers dressing up to wish them a special Happy Birthday over Zoom… within 10 minutes we had suggestions of everything from puppets, juggling and Am Dram to singing, dancing and balloon sculpture!  Student Community Action’s representative Caroline was on the call and plans are already well under way to make this idea a reality.  And Agnes is working on a development of it… to bring Santa’s and elves Zooming into people’s homes as an alternative option for people to earn and spend Time Credits this Christmas.

There’s not a day goes by when I don’t feel lucky to be in a role which gives me so many opportunities to work alongside brilliant people who are making great things happen at a local level.  Now that I’m a few months into this role, I’ve also had the opportunity to start collaborating with others who share the same aims.  This week I’ve been working with Granville, CEO of Voluntary and Community Action East Cambs who is leading on the development of a Community Support Network for the district.  In the first instance this is as simple as identifying a group of people who are interested in their communities and sharing news of what’s happening and opportunities to get involved.  We hope it will evolve from there into a supportive network of community minded people who harness energy, help each other out and build ideas together.

Excitingly, we are currently advertising Community Connector posts (deadline is 29 November) .  The focus of these roles is to walk alongside communities supporting them to build on their strengths and resilience to create places where people live happily and healthily for longer. Reflecting on the power of collaboration, we think that a good way to kick off could be a socially distanced road trip (Lockdown allowing) around the district.  On the way creating positive stories for a range of communications channels in the form of mini-films, vox pops and photos, populating a map with all the interesting stuff we find along the way.  It will be well worth a visit to Coveney… where on 5th November residents all turned out on their doorsteps at 6.30pm, sparklers in hand for bonfire night! 

Simple ideas worth spreading… it feels like we’re creating our own community version of TED talks… or the (N)ice Bucket Challenge… or perhaps in reality our own unique East Cambs shaped way to celebrate our incredible communities, learning and growing together.

I think adapting Neighbourhood Cares learning may be helpful again here.  Similarly, to the way our Neighbourhood Cares team recruited for people with shared values and work within an agreed framework, I wonder if it might it be a case of inviting community-minded people from across the district to join together as a light-touch team, igniting ideas, inspiring each other, and taking community ingenuity viral?  If you’re thinking about this too and have insights and challenges to share remember to get in touch. Thank you.

Community is for Life, not just for Covid.

by Wendy Lansdown | Twitter @wendylansdown

Following Neighbourhood Cares – my favourite job ever – I feel lucky to have stayed with Cambridgeshire County Council and found a role whose potential excites me just as much.  As Place Based Coordinator in our new Think Communities team.  My role is all about collaborating across the public and voluntary sector to see how we can team up better to support our communities.  Whilst we would never have wished for it, the pandemic has demonstrated the amazing power of community, and shown that community spirit isn’t something that we lost decades ago, but something that’s here and now in big bold colours today.

I love the diversity of responses from our communities.  In East Cambridgeshire where I work, we have a rich mix of examples; from neighbours-helping-neighbours, to Mutual Aid groups, to Timebanks, to Parish Council led volunteer teams, and in some cases a partnership of two or more of these.  The trend – even now with people going back to work – is that the community groups have more offers of support than requests for help.

The head scratcher for me has been to work out how I can be most useful.  Alongside colleagues from the District Council and the charity Care Network we realised we needed to understand how things were going for those who really know.  So, we listened to; those leading community responses, colleagues across the public and voluntary sector, people being helped, concerned neighbours and co-workers who were speaking to residents who are shielding. 

Following some one-to-one conversations, we held an online catch up with Parish councils and people leading community responses to ask how they were doing, and how we could help.  We found strong insightful groups who had creatively shaped their response to suit their community.  What seemed most helpful on the initial call, wasn’t anything to do with our statutory duties as councils, rather offering the space to hear from each other, empathise over shared concerns, and share experience on what had and hadn’t worked for each community. 

The enthusiasm and connections made on the first call, led to us suggesting another, and so began a regular on-line get together.  The most important messages and the inspiration in these calls always come from local communities.  It’s taught us as Local Authorities that rather than ‘telling’ people what to do we can be way more helpful by listening to what’s needed and asking what we can do to help.  On both sides of the conversation we’re honest about our parameters and through constructive conversations work out the next steps together. 

After the first few virtual catch-ups a shared concern was emerging – community leaders not being confident that they had reached everyone, particularly that those who aren’t online may be out of the loop and not know the local help and support that is available.  A second emerging theme was the uplifting stories that people were sharing from each community, how each community had used its own unique mix of skills, needs, connections and personalities which led to a plethora of brilliant and community shaped responses – from the local windmill keeping everyone in flour to the 80’s band sharing their songs from a front garden, to Captain America delivering Easter eggs, each created their own trademarks and in so-doing built new connections and new friendships, often between people who have lived in the same village or town for many years now making the most out of the opportunity to connect with new acquaintances.

The regular catch ups have now got a name – the Parish and Community Forum, and through this meeting space we are finding new ways to collaborate.  To ensure all residents had the info about local support whilst also celebrating the community stories we came together to produce this Community magazine for the District.  A real collaboration- with communities leading the way by contributing stories, one wonderful furloughed volunteer, Zoe, offering her comm’s skills to capture them.   East Cambs District Council covering the printing, public and voluntary sector providing key info, and County and District councils collaborating to bring the edition together.  Then a huge wave of volunteers helping to deliver door-to-door across the district.

As we’ve got to know each other and hear about each other’s ideas, so they have spread.  In Soham local community leaders noticed that many, often older, people were increasingly feeling the negative effects of isolation, but did not want to be ‘befriended’, rather were looking for a reciprocal relationship.  VE day provided the inspiration for a themed letter writing project between school children and community members, one which has evolved to include the local care home making a film of their residents’ memories, home-made gifts exchanged both ways – from pictures to embroidered bookmarks, and an evolution of the idea to incorporate sharing of crafts!

Reciprocity is also happening at community-scale with the exchange of ideas – Fordham, the neighbouring village has started their own community pen-pal scheme, and Soham residents are inspired by Fordham’s Wish Tree – the hopes and aspirations of locals may well be fluttering in the Soham breeze soon!

Personally, I’m learning that to be helpful in my new role I don’t need to be controlling anything or telling people what to do.  Listening, being open to ideas, connecting and being alongside has been where I’ve felt most useful.

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.


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….