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February 23, 2011

What’s an organiser to do?

Let’s assume that these community organisers are all recruited and ready to go. What exactly does a community organiser then do? There may be as many answers to that question as there are organisers.  One of these will surely include finding ways to encourage and grow levels of ‘social capital’. No easy task in itself but a recent gathering of experts and innovators suggests they may be getting closer to the answers

The drive to put civil society at the heart of the reform agenda aims to create a new relationship between the state and users of public services. To achieve this the local community, and not just the town hall, must respond to the needs of the people who live there. However, as community groups are keen to point out, this goes beyond merely boosting the number of people who are prepared to volunteer. The development of what is being called “social capital” is an ambitious undertaking and, as the government is finding with its “big society” initiative, turning it into a practical reality is no easy task. But there is already evidence emerging that it can bring significant changes to the lives of people most in need of support, with the potential to take the policy of person-centred care to the next level. And, at a time of spending cuts, it is also saving money. Leading lights from the public and voluntary sectors, who are helping to build community capacity in social care, recently had the opportunity to showcase what they are achieving and explain how their model could be rolled out nationally in a Dragons’ Den-style event. The proceedings were hosted by Society Guardian and sponsored by the Association of
Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) and the Think Local, Act Personal partnership, which is the name given to a sectorwide commitment to move forward personalization and community-based support.
Each of the eight organisations delivered a 10-minute pitch in front of a panel of six experts to convince them why they had the winning formula to build social capital and create sustainable local communities.

Spice designs and develops time credit systems that reward people for helping their local communities. Time credits can be exchanged for access to local leisure services or cultural events, such as football matches or concerts
Panel’s verdict “This should be rolled out nationally.”

Community Catalysts
Community Catalysts is a social enterprise  giving support to “micro providers”, which are individuals or very small local enterprises that provide a range of social care, housing, leisure and health services.
Panel’s verdict “Vividly explodes the myth that communities are leader deficient.”

Connected Care, Hartlepool council
Hartlepool council’s Connected Care project, based on a model developed by Turning Point, has recruited a network of community navigators who support people, helping them access personalised
services and information.
Panel’s verdict “People have a lot to learn from what you have accomplished – We applaud you.”

Health Empowerment Leverage Project (HELP)
Help is a community development approach pioneered by a former health visitor, Hazel Stuteley. Her method of bringing together citizens and local professionals to build trust, networks and improve services has helped to transform deprived communities across the country.
Panel’s verdict “The health dimension is really exciting.”

Friends and Neighbours, Sandwell council
Friends and Neighbours was set up to encourage participation, build support networks and make the most of the assets in the community, including people’s skills, time, energy and personal budgets as well as traditional services and facilities.
Panel’s verdict “Pooling personal budget will prevent [the personalisation] agenda resulting in individualism.”

The Active Communities Team (ACT), Lambeth
The ACT team in Lambeth council aims to develop third-sector markets, coproduce prevention services and build resilience in local communities. Asset transfers to voluntary and community groups are a key factor in achieving this – so far £3.5m of council assets have transferred to the community. This could rise to £10m.
Panel’s verdict “Entrepreneurs at the heart of a local authority is mind blowing.”

Shropshire Age Concern Help at Home scheme
Paid home-support workers provide practical help to older people while volunteers provide friendship and signpost to other agencies. So far more than 3,000 older people have been helped to stay in their own home.
Panel’s verdict “Top class – accruing £1.3m of new [welfare] benefits is incredible.”

Neighbourhood Networks, Leeds city council
Some 37 neighbourhood networks, run by older people in their own locality, are delivering services to their peers. The council and primary care trust have assigned the networks a £2m annual contract for the next eight years to meet health and social care outcomes.
Panel’s verdict “You have to love the depth of this project.”