“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” ― Helen Keller

On the morning of Saturday 8 March 2014 the Practice Patient Group (PPG) held the inaugural South Lewisham Health Centre Health and Well Being community event. This was held at the South Lewisham Health Centre.

At a very early stage in the planning process the PPG decided that ‘collaboration’ would be the key theme of the event. And in a spirit of collaboration the Community Connections Community Development worker for the South Eastern cluster (Trevor Pybus) had the opportunity to work closely with the South Lewisham Health Centre Patient group to help deliver the event. 

A series of outcomes for the event were developed; these included increasing the current health information held at the South Lewisham Health Centre for patients and the wider community and, importantly, to share the learning from the event.

A draft plan setting out the potential best use of the waiting room space was drawn up. Over twenty different community services applied to have information stalls at the Health and Well being event. The variety and breadth of organisations that were willing to participate was outstanding; new and old, small and large; all applied and were welcomed.  The PPG supplied a unique opportunity for these very different organisations to network with staff from the Health centre. Local people along with the South Lewisham team of Doctors engaged in a very informal dialog. People quickly found out more about the very different community based services.  

An unplanned outcome of the day was the potential for community partners to have information stalls available during the centres opening hours.  

The day was an excellent example of how the Community Connections project is trying to embed the key concept of co-production in the development of public services. The day helped especially toward increasing community capacity. The informal approach untaken will hopefully lead into improved user and carer experience of services. And the use of PPG will help toward the acknowledgement that the citizen has a vital role in achieving positive outcomes from public services.

I look forward to letting you have a copy of the final report!

Trevor Pybus

Community Development Worker

Surviving, Striving, Thriving?

Two weeks ago I went to a conference hosted by the Centre for Community Engagement Research at Goldsmiths University. It was called “Communities surviving, striving, thriving? A day of dialogue and action.”
One of the most thought provoking moments of the day for me came right at the start when Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters offered up a thoughtful and engaging critique of multiculturalism and multifaithism. Her objections to these movements were centred on how they can have a homogenising effect on minority communities; allowing people to check the “we are being inclusive” box by referring to “the Muslim community” or “the Somali community”, for example. It is of course important to recognise the existence of these communities, to be able to work with them and include them in discussions and actions that will affect them just as they affect the wider population. But it is this repeated reference to “them” to which Pragna objects. As if “they” are a homogenous lot and “their” views can be represented by individual (usually religious) community leaders. It was, in a way, a plea for a wider recognition of intersectionality. The recognition that, in essence, people are not just members of the ethnic and religious communities they are (usually) born into, but that their identities are far more complex and they will themselves identify with several different communities at once and, most importantly, that this will have effects that cannot easily be broken down into their constituent parts.

We also heard from a number of other panelists including Mat Danaher from the Unison trade union whose impassioned call for people to restore faith and renew support for the trade union movement was warmly received and former young mayor of Lewisham Jacob Sakil in a day that managed to encompass a heated debate on food banks alongside workshops on the effective use of music as a means to engage with communities and on what the concept of democracy means to communities. There was even an agreement to take immediate action to address the problem of homelessness within the student population at Goldsmiths.

A running theme throughout the day and one that is most relevant to our work in Community Connections was the need to build more resilience and strengthen bonds in communities. It is a common reaction to the world we are presented with in 2014 which is characterised to a large extent by the disappearance of those links between people that once bred the kind of mutual support that we are struggling to provide to our ageing population. A world that Zygmunt Bauman calls “Liquid Modernity”. Crucially though, our attempts in the voluntary sector to reinvigorate communities are not (and should not be) just nostalgic calls for the solidarity of bygone eras, lest we reinforce the homogenising effects referred to above. Instead we must strive to celebrate the complexity that exists within us all, recognise each other as assets, and offer up support that blurs the lines drawn up by this well-intentioned drive to tolerance we call multiculturalism.

Post by Henry

Happy Valentine’s Data

Call me an old romantic if you will, but I like nothing more than trawling through a good old data set on Valentine’s day.  There’s a simple reason for this and that is that good service delivery needs to be evidence based; nothing says “I love you” quite like developing services that actually address the well evidenced needs and desires of local people and capitalise fully on local resources.  Evidence and data in this sense are interchangeable.  A record of the fact that we have an empty community hall on Friday mornings is data, as is knowledge of a nascent voluntary group looking for a venue (hopefully you can see where this is going).  A more traditional conception of data is perhaps represented in this table derived from the 2011 census data which gives reported general health by ethnic group in Lewisham.  All three could be put to good use in developing a new service with a health-focus for the local community.

As a Community Development Worker, access to data and its effective interpretation and implementation are of paramount importance to me as a I go about my work.  But I want to stress that this doesn’t mean sitting down in front of spreadsheets all day long – it also means going out and visiting groups and venues, putting faces to email addresses and gaining a thorough and human understanding of who is working to deliver services, what their motivations and visions are, and how they go about it.

Between these two extremes there is a wealth of information available for free and presented in intuitive and accessible formats that can help people who are thinking about services and service delivery to work effectively.  This ward atlas by http://data.london.gov.uk/ is a great example.  A few clicks and you can generate a map of Lewisham indicating the population density of the over-65 age group:

lewishamwards65plus

(Note how the density increases gradually from the north to the south of the borough).

You can imagine for yourself how this kind of information could be put to use by a local authority or by local people working to support each other.  Powerful, wouldn’t you say?

We also live in the era of the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) produced by Local Authorities in conjunction with local NHS bodies and by which many priorities in terms of funding and commissioning of services are set.  Anyone thinking about a new service or developing an existing one would be foolish to ignore their local JSNA and the local priorities identified therein.  Having said that the priorities identified in the JSNA in Lewisham are wide ranging and could be interpreted to include almost any illnesses (“reduce the number of emergency admissions for people with chronic long term conditions”  and “improve mental health and wellbeing” are just 2 of the 9 priorities in Lewisham) – so organisations looking for funding can and should be considering how their projected outcomes fit in with these priorities.

And yes, here at Community Connections we are generating our own data sets.  Most interesting will be the work our facilitators have been doing to uncover the most significant unmet needs in the borough (see my previous post: Could you be a befriender? – and there will be more to come) but also on the development side of the project we are working towards developing maps like this that give a broad overview of services in one corner of the borough.

So what sources of data do you use that I could access?  Is there anything else available in Lewisham?  I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Post by Henry

Monday Morning JOY!

I went to visit a local voluntary group called Just Older Youth (JOY) this morning and I have to say I was blown away by their energy and enthusiasm! On Mondays they run three separate events in three separate venues; Tai-Chi (£2.00), Seated Exercise (£1.50) and a “Chop and Chat” group.  There was a fantastic community spirit underpinning all of these events and everyone was having such a good time.  JOY is operated entirely by volunteers and I think they are a shining example of how the voluntary sector works at its best to produce cost-effective solutions in response to localised concerns.

The approach of JOY is really neatly summed up by their name; they want to consider older people who live locally as people, just young people, who happen to be a bit older.  They still crave social interaction, and get a buzz from physical activity, and want to be able to contribute to their community.

JOY are always looking for new people to attend their groups and classes, so if you fancy taking part or know someone who does, check out their list of activities.

I also wonder if there are other groups or organisations in the Borough that are similar to JOY and operate in other areas.  Do you work for one? Do you know of one?  If so, we’d love to hear about them, so please get in touch!

Post by Henry

Could you be a befriender?

First off, I would like to wish everyone a belated Happy New Year and I hope you enjoyed your break from work, time with your family, or your time at work if you were working through the festive period. This is also a good opportunity to share with you our new flyer which is doing the rounds; please do share it with friends and colleagues:

Community_connections_flyer_PDF_HiRes

Whilst the spirit of giving may be rapidly fading from your mind as normal life resumes, I wanted to take the opportunity to throw another log on the charitable fire by highlighting one of the most significant needs we have uncovered through our work in Lewisham since November; the need for befrienders.

Befrienders are volunteers who go out and visit people in their homes for a couple of hours per week, maybe do some odd jobs round the house for them, and possibly support them to get out for a bit of fresh air or some shopping. They provide an absolutely essential service for people who are isolated in their homes because of illness or disability and can have a profound effect on that person’s quality of life. Befrienders will find they benefit themselves from the interaction with the person they are supporting who might share a skill with them, regale them with stories from their past, or offer advice drawn from a lifetime of experience.

There are a number of organisations in Lewisham who offer befriending services including Age UK Lewisham and Southwark (http://www.ageuk.org.uk/lewishamandsouthwark/), Voluntary Services Lewisham (http://www.vslonline.org.uk/) and Independent Age (http://www.independentage.org/) but they all need more volunteers to continue to meet ever increasing need.  So if you think you could be a befriender, get in touch with one of them, or contact us at: communityconnections@ageuklands.org.uk.

Alternatively, maybe you work for an organisation that is considering developing a new befriending service in Lewisham, if so please send us an email, we’d love to hear from you and offer support from our community development team.

Post by Henry

“So many organisations!”

Hello world!

After a month of getting the word out and visiting the good people of Lewisham in their homes, surgeries, offices and theatres we are advancing further into the processes of mapping services and taking referrals here at Community Connections.  Some of the most enjoyable days out we have had were at Meet Me at the Albany (http://www.thealbany.org.uk/event_detail/1048/Clubs/Meet-me-at-the-Albany), the Launch of the Over 55s Thursday Club at Honor Oak Community Centre (http://www.60up.org.uk/hocc-over-55s-thursday-club/), the “Wellvember Fayre” by Healthwatch Lewisham (http://www.healthwatchlewisham.co.uk/) in the Civic Suite in Catford, and the Health and Social Care forum run by Voluntary Action Lewisham (http://valewisham.org.uk/blog/health-and-social-care-forum-0#.UrG9jdJdW8A) in the Albany theatre, Deptford (http://www.thealbany.org.uk/) but this list barely scratches the surface of what has been a month of exciting discovery for all of us…

In fact there are so many excellent organisations – statutory and non-statutory – working with adults in the Borough that it prompted one GP to complain to us recently that there are “So many organisations offering services now that it gets quite confusing”.  And there is some truth in this.  There are all kinds of projects, groups and forums that people can get involved in in the borough and whilst this is certainly a thing to be celebrated, it can also be bewildering for everyone involved.

The task of the Community Development Workers here at Community Connections is to try to make sense of all of this and to get a real understanding of what services are available, who they are appropriate for, and how, with the input of service-users, they might be improved.  We are not just producing another directory of services; this is not simply a process of putting together a new list for a council leaflet.  Rather we are looking at the rich variety of opportunity in the borough, trying to get first-hand experience of as much of it as possible, and supporting everyone to develop services for the better.

So, if you’re an organisation operating in the borough and you’d like more involvement from service users in planning and delivery but are not sure how to go about this, then get in touch.  Likewise if you are someone who regularly accesses services in the borough and would like to have more of a say in the kinds of opportunities you are offered.

We can be contacted at:

communityconnections@ageuklands.org.uk

You can call us on: 07704 235535

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @cc_lewisham

Finally, Merry Christmas to one and all, and we’ll be back in the new year.

(Post by Henry)