SCIE opinion - 13 January 2013

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Photograph of Andrea Sutcliffe

New year in Newham

From SCIE’s Chief Executive, Andrea Sutcliffe

What better way to start the New Year than to get out from behind my desk and find out what is happening on the frontline of the care and support system?

My destination was the London Borough of Newham, an area I used to know well as it offered me cheap accommodation during my student years and early working life.  But it is over 20 years since I last lived there and wow – what a transformation!  What were once blighted industrial wastelands now host exhibition centres, hotels, office buildings, residential developments, shopping centres and, of course, the Olympic Park. 

And the positive changes in the landscape are being matched by the transformation taking place in adult social services and, last week, I had the great privilege of meeting some of the people making that happen. 

LB Newham is, by any definition, working in a challenging environment; one of the most deprived boroughs in the country, hugely diverse and coping with major cuts in resources.  You would think that this might lead to disillusion and despair but what I heard, from the Executive Director Graeme Betts and Director of Adults Social Care Grainne Siggins, was a quiet determination to make the most of these difficult times to improve outcomes for local people.

Their clear vision and strong leadership are vital and this is complemented by a focus on maintaining the pace of change, embracing different ways to deliver services and a willingness to work with others. What also shone through their stories of difficult decisions and radical solutions was their commitment to transparency and co-production with service users, their carers and the public.

Both Grainne and Graeme acknowledge the challenges and some of the things that make life more difficult than it needs to be, but this does not deter them from pursuing their main objectives.

As good as it was to meet Graeme and Grainne, the highlight of the visit was my trip to the Chargeable Lane Resource Centre. Ferried there by the lovely Jennifer Kumi, who had made all my arrangements, I met Provider Services Manager Jackie Brooks and Community Resources Manager Gill Otter, who have both worked for LB Newham for about 30 years.  They were proud of the facilities and activities available at Chargeable Lane (including a specially adapted gym, computer room and specialist dementia service). They also told me about plans to open up the centre so that the local community could make more use of what is on offer.

I then joined a group of carers and service users involved in the Newham Shared Lives Scheme. Alex Fox, of Shared Lives Plus, had told me great things were happening in Newham, and so it proved. I asked the carers why they had become involved and what was different about Shared Lives. They praised the flexibility and more relaxed approach; the help from the LB Newham team and other carers; and spoke passionately about the opportunity to support someone as part of the family, sharing skills and restoring confidence. Their enthusiasm and commitment was truly inspiring.

The service users had their say too and were very positive. One young man explained that he had been with his carer for five months and took a deep breath before he said: “I have not regretted a second.  She is the most fantastic, the most extraordinary and the most amazing carer I have ever known.”

Finally I met two women involved in Newham’s Micro-Enterprise Project, assisting disabled people to develop their own small-scale services with the support of Community Catalysts.  They spoke warmly of the help on offer and the understanding they were developing about how to set up a business.  One of them said that what she really valued was: “The focus is on what we have got not on what you haven’t got.”

The weather on the day of my visit was gloomy and grey but that’s not how I felt when I left – as I said in my thank you email to Graeme: “I know that financially times are tough but the strategy you outlined, the transformation Grainne is leading, the wonderful facilities at Chargeable Lane and the fantastic work of the Shared Lives Scheme and Micro-Enterprise Project, all go to show what can be achieved when dedicated and committed people are determined to make a positive difference for service users and carers.”

As Graeme himself said: “I honestly believe that if you can't be inspired by the changes taking place here, and want to contribute to them, then you're in the wrong business.”

How about that as a positive way to start the New Year?!

Relevant SCIE resources

Social Care Online

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