Building community capacity

Featured article - 17 September 2015
By Caroline Speirs, Think Local Act Personal

Head-shot of the author, Caroline Speirs, Think Local Act Personal

The bulk of social care is provided not by the statutory or voluntary social services agencies, but by ordinary people who may be linked into informal caring networks in their communities…

Not an excerpt from the Care Act but from the Barclay report written over 30 years ago.

Understanding the critical importance of family, friends, neighbours and community as part of a broad support eco-system would seem to be finally bearing fruit. The Care Act enshrines an ambitious new approach where an individual’s relationships and networks are central to any formal service provision. More ground-breaking still are the wellbeing and prevention duties. These clauses of the Care Act – in my view – have the potential to truly radicalise our approach to supporting individuals to have a life not a service. In the same way that personalisation disrupted the holy trinity of formal care services – day care, home care, residential care –these new duties could perform a similarly profound role and contribute to the building of strong, resilient and inclusive communities. Think Local Act Personal, has been actively involved in supporting organisations to embed community capacity for several years, most recently publishing a framework to support Health and Wellbeing Boards to embed this approach in their local strategies. And there has been an abundance of literature printed on this subject in recent months, a whole raft of excellent research, frameworks and initiatives. All of which is valuable but nonetheless confusing for practitioners who are hearing lots of different messages in lots of different languages.

It was for this reason that TLAP recently convened a leader’s seminar. Simon Stevens (NHS England), David Pearson (Immediate Past President ADASS) Duncan Selbie (PHE), Rob Webster (NHS Confederation) were all in attendance and the consensus was clear - this really needs to happen; a consensus endorsed by the c.350 health, social care and public health and VCS colleagues I had the pleasure to meet with at a number of recent regional events. And the stars and planets are aligned. Or at least the legislative and policy landscape is. The NHS Five Year Forward View talks about the need to take a prevention approach and harness the energies of communities. Public Health England has stated that a ‘fundamentally new approach’ is needed, ‘to create and sustain health, mental and physical, at every stage of life across all our communities. The ADASS vision is one in which social care is based on a new relationship with citizens and that recognises ‘that at core, our individual needs sit within a wider network of personal and social relationships in the community’.

So everybody wants this to happen, with some areas already beginning to pilot some community capacity approaches (see the SCIE Prevention Library for examples). The narrative is compelling and the evidence grows ever stronger but action is needed if this is to happen at scale and pace. There is no off the peg model but we can agree key principles - Asset based approaches (as discussed by Mick in last month’s blog); co-production; social capital; collaboration and inclusivity. These principles are surely core requirements for strengthening cohesion and connectedness?

We do need to talk about how we begin to measure the impact of this approach, but how do you measure joy, contentedness, reassurance, peacefulness, quality, excitement, happiness, meaningfulness, purpose …or as one person with lived experience asked, “how do you measure the pleasure of having a pint with a mate.” We’ll save that for another blog!

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