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.

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