As we begin the third year of the latest Our Place initiative, we are keen to share the experiences of others who work with Our Place communities. So, we asked Judith McVinnie, a Community Builder in Lochside and Lincluden, to tell us her Our Place story…
It’s 9am on a Wednesday morning and I’m unpacking the car with bags, A1 maps, post-its, cupcakes and some freshly picked apples from the community orchard. It feels like I’ve done more than a week’s work and I haven’t even been in the office as yet. The usual pleasantries with colleagues take place as I divulge the stories of the week so far – putting up posters, meeting an inspirational person who has managed to leave an abusive partner with her two young kids, judging a community hero competition, and so on. Although there is great interest in what I’ve got to say, I get the feeling that this doesn’t seem like real work to my colleague – I sometimes wonder if they know the challenges that I face.
Sitting at my desk I go through emails, arrange some meetings to try and find some answers to people’s questions and resolve an issue that most people have long given up on. Then something comes back to me about the previous day – was it strange that one of the community connectors had a black eye and seemed completely out of sorts? I have a quick look at their Facebook page, see they are struggling with parenting after what feels like a never ending summer holiday with no summer or holiday. I pick up the phone to give them a call.
I throw myself whole heartedly into this work because you have to be authentic and real to make human connections with people. Having the time to build a relationship with the community is one of the most satisfying parts of place based work.
I’ve learned that the things that stop people contributing to their community are often not ground-breaking barriers. They are simple things like knowing someone else that is going to be there, or childcare, or transport that people don’t have the confidence to ask for. They often ask themselves – ‘what am I really going to be able to contribute?’ And when they can’t answer, the hopes and dreams and all the skills, connections and assets that they possess are left for small talk at the school gates.
I know that life gets in the way of community building, and people drift. Still I continually invite and spark up previous conversations I’ve had with different people. At a community event the one acting differently in the corner is the one you want to naturally encourage other people to engage with. You need to keep reminding yourself and others – unless you include everyone, it’s not a community.
I’ve worked with communities before, but it’s always been straight into the specific projects and tangible stuff. Our Place (so far) has been more about the process, the journey of getting to that stuff I guess. The nuts and bolts of how a community reacts, shares and works together. As the first grants start to feed into the area, projects and activities will capture people’s attention. People may or may not remember it’s Our Place but, regardless of that, they will hopefully have more numbers on their mobile phone they can call, they will know how to contact the council when something is not right and they’ll send that email they’ve been meaning to send for ages. The more people that have these connections – the better life will be.
This is good work to do. It can be fun. But what keeps me getting up early in the morning and my head held high as I walk into the housing estate to work with the community is that it’s important work. And the question is – if we are not all going to play our part in trying to change things now – then who is?
When Alison Clink’s son Samier was diagnosed with ADHD she recognized the need to help other families in a similar position. In this blog and as founder of Dundee and Angus ADHD Support Group SCIO she takes the opportunity of ADHD Awareness Month to tell us more about the project and the difference its new Lottery award will make.
“When my son, Samier, was diagnosed with ADHD eight years ago I had no idea where to turn for support and advice. It was then I realised there was no help for families in our position in the Dundee and Angus area. I initially set up the group with another mum as a parents monthly support group but we soon realised we had missed something blindingly obvious as there was nothing for the kids themselves. So I set up a youth club which proved to be an instant hit with youngsters in the area.
“Through our work we provide a drop in service for parents, support groups and offer a range of parenting classes, as well as teaching coping mechanisms for dealing with children and young people. We get really good feedback from parents to say what a difference these sessions make.
“Young people often feel stigmatised and isolated because of their behavior patterns and parents get anxious about taking them to activities or clubs to mix with other children. Our club is a safe and welcoming environment which also provides some respite for parents and families which is, as I know too well, vitally important. ADHD sufferers can be hard work, always taking risks, always on the go, not understanding things and there’s no time keeping or sticking to a schedule. The list of issues that you have to deal with on a daily basis is a long one.
“We are working really hard with both pupils and staff in local schools to change people’s perceptions about the condition. There’s a real lack of understanding there which means that the kids can miss out on a lot or don’t achieve their potential. As a parent of a child with ADHD it’s one of the things I find most frustrating of all.
“This new Big Lottery Fund grant of £98,716 will make a huge difference to our group and it’s appropriate that we got the news during ADHD Awareness Month. Having a Project Manager will mean that the support group not only continues but grows to meet the needs of all ADHD sufferers in Dundee and Angus. From all the families this will help, thank you so much.”
How do we build a society that prevents problems from occurring rather than one that, as now, copes with the consequences?
It’s a tricky issue.
At the Big Lottery Fund we have been looking at where our Lottery funding has supported groups or projects addressing a long standing issue by taking an early action or preventative approach. We want to see what we can learn as well as find out if our funding is well spent supporting this, often innovative, work.
We know from conversations across the voluntary, community and statutory sectors there is a widespread desire to take action earlier. And we understand that it’s hard. Evidence shows few organisations and partnerships have managed to successfully refocus their activity to deliver preventative activity instead of (or even as well as) current services on a large scale.
Some of the thorny issues are clear:
- the need to continue current services can mean there is often not the time, money, or leadership to collaborate, to deliver a genuine shift towards using more public resources in early action.
- many fantastic individual projects that are successful in taking a preventative approach for a set activity can struggle to be sustained or mainstreamed as their funding draws to a close.
- proving that something did not happen is difficult (rather than there is a problem to solve) often requiring a long term analysis rather than instant results. This in turn causes issues when that organisation has to then compete for funding to continue existing work. There will always be a need to offer services that support people in times of crisis.
However here in Scotland we’d like consider how our Lottery support could encourage the redesign of services concentrating on taking early action, and therefore preventing negative consequences in the future. We are interested as we believe people will live better lives if they avoid the need for intensive support or crisis services at any point.
To do this we know that learning from those who’ve tried this to deliver early action or preventative activity is key to understanding what might work and where significant challenges lie. We would like to better understand ‘what works’ not just with regard to those who benefit in the long term but also what are the key elements that help organisations successfully re focus; moving to a preventative rather than responsive set of services.
In particular we’d like to talk to you if you’ve made this kind of fundamental change and the result has led to improved joint working between agencies, it is has involved meaningful co-production with local communities and end users, or led to a shift in mainstream expenditure.
We’d like to hear about your experiences and see your comments below – so please get in touch.
This week ahead of International Day of Older Persons, we are shining a light on some of the fantastic 734 older people’s projects we have funded over the last five years. In this blog Nicola Hanssen of Roar – Connections for Life Ltd tells us why Lottery funding has been so crucial in helping older people in Renfrewshire stay fitter for longer.
My grandparents were old when they married because she was ‘in service’ and only had one day off a week and he was down the mine in West Lothian. After a labour intensive life it seemed entirely appropriate that retirement would mean a rest and offering them a chair ‘to take the weight off their feet’ was a kindness. Our expectations of their aging was that old people got frail and old people fall. However times have changed and so has our understanding of aging. Roar – Connections for Life Ltd works across Renfrewshire with growing numbers of older people who are still enjoying busy, active lives well into their 90’s and through the help of Big Lottery funding we are able to help people take more control over how they manage their aging and stay fitter longer. One of the biggest areas of change to come from the work we have done is challenging the myth that falls are inevitable in old age – they are highly likely!! But they can be avoided if you take action on a number of areas of life.
Our journey to making this bold statement started with an Investing in Ideas grant in 2014 where we developed our research into the emerging evidence around frailty as a reversible or avoidable condition. We learned that there are lots of factors that make home fires more likely which are similar to the factors that often result in falls so what better way to tackle this than by joining up with the fire service and working on tackling this together – so we did. We also learned that muscles can be rebuilt and balance re learned no matter how old you are if you follow some exercises and small life changes so what better way to tackle this than by joining up with Glasgow Caledonian University Institute of Applied Health Research, School of Health & Life Sciences Centre for Living – so we did. Amongst all of this we became aware that because of changes to NHS podiatry older people were no longer routinely getting their toenails cut and that this was having a very detrimental effect on their ability to do their exercises, stay mobile and look after themselves or their home – you know what it feels like when your feet hurt! So what better way to tackle this than to set up a Foot Care service with help from NHS Podiatry – so we did! And our Feet, Falls and Fires was born but we haven’t stopped there because through our work with people we identified that it’s all very well being fit enough to go out but that doesn’t help much if you have nowhere to go or no one to go with. So what better way to tackle this than help people overcome their fear, link them up with others and provide a menu of fun things to do and people to do it with. I’m delighted to say that a further Big Lottery Fund grant has allowed us to do just that. This is the future of active aging – help us move with the times!