Avril's Blog » Community Connect

The Sat Nav of Support Services

GPS navigation works because of a constellation of satellites that provide a high level view of all that is happening on the ground.

After 30 years of the frustration of lack of joined up support services, I decided it was time to do something about it. After many false attempts and two years later, we have cracked it and it’s all because of the Sat Nav.

CommunityConnect pinpoints relevant support services through a process of triangulation.

So what do we triangulate………

1. The person. It always has to start with him or her, you or me. We don’t take too many details, just enough for a quick and simple start.

2. The circumstances. We explore what is happening and why the person is looking for help. This means people don’t have to know what support services they need – just the issues they face.

3. The provision. We list the local provision across many different categories and sectors. This information is updated every month and only includes those organisations who can respond within 24 hours to people needing help.

We’re still exploring……….

Like a Sat Nav – the beneficiary is the person who reaches their end goal. Empowering people with knowledge early, prevents the escalation of problems. It enables them to get the help they need, when they need it.At the same time – we all know that the average cost of a home visit by a public agency is £8.62, a phone call £2.83 whereas online support is 15p. The benefit to our budgets (the public purse) is significant and reducing demand on our ‘acute’ or ‘expert’ support services means more time for those people who really need them.

Let’s not be afraid of digital solutions.   NESTA’s recent work is tracking a whole range of digital solutions used by Public Agencies. We can never forget the 7% who are currently digitally excluded, yet, we don’t avoid Satellite Navigation tools because some people prefer to use paper maps!


Creating a village – digitally?

I was in lovely town Pitlochry recently and needed my watch strap adjusted. I assumed I would need a ‘jeweller’ to do that and so popped into the only jewellers in the high street.  I was disappointed to hear that they couldn’t help, however, they did tell me that the person in the leather shop round the corner would probably do it for me!!  Within 10 mins, my watch strap was sorted – FREE of charge!

Could it be possible to recreate the village mentality across a large Local Authority, where those who connect with people needing help can say,  ‘ I can’t do it, but Jim down the road can’.

Let me give you an example.   Isolation is a killerWe will not resolve the ‘social costs’ of isolation through service provision and so we need to build people into community.  Not always, but in more ways than we sometimes realise, community is happening all around us, but because there is no ‘village square’ and connection can be hard to find.  The carer who supports Jasbir, an isolated older person, with personal care, but also connects her to the volunteers who visit or take her out for a coffee, brings community to Jasbir’s door.  Jasbir chooses how much/little she wants to engage – but she has the opportunity to connect!

That’s the goal of CommunityConnect.  Creating a village square – digitally.  Ensuring anyone who connects with someone in need can say, ‘I can’t, but I know who can’.   For those who can get to ‘the village square’ – they just need to tell us what’s going on and we can direct them to relevant support for their situation, even if they don’t know what help is available – bit like my watch strap experience!

The day of joined up services, may happen, but in the meantime I’m on a crusade!  In this exciting and radical digital age – we can join up information making sure we all know how to get the support we need.  The village square in a large City is becoming a reality.

Don’t Map Your Local Providers!!

What? I can hear the cries “How can we join up our services, provide good signposts,  establish better partnership and understand our communities, if we don’t map the good work that is happening?”

The mapping of service provision has become a standard activity in local authorities. Audits done by 2nd tier organisations across the voluntary & faith sector have contributed greatly, uncovering important activity largely unknown to Local Authority officers.

But such mapping exercises take a lot of time and effort. The output is a snapshot of endeavour and somewhat short of a useful tool.  In addition, provision is varied, some aren’t open daily, some don’t answer the phone and others don’t satisfy safeguarding procedures.

Following more than 20 years of community development experience we at CommunityConnect, are taking a different approach. Our drive is to ensure that people needing help can get it easily using our online process. It informs people about what type of help is available to them and what organisations locally can support them. If they can’t get hold of those organisations easily – then we’ve just developed another gap. So………….

We don’t try to map every single service or activity that is being offered in the local authority.

We invest time understanding the local area, find the key providers and build a connection with those organisations. We then validate their service information and keep the essential details accurate through our monthly update phone calls. We are not attempting to list the 500 VCS organisations who are registered in an area, we focus on the core 150ish providers who have an administrative base and can answer the phone to us! If you can’t answer the phone to us, you won’t answer it to a vulnerable person.

If an organisation doesn’t answer the phone 3 times in a row – we draft the listing until we can make contact.  If we can’t – we remove them from the list.  New providers contact us or we find them through our connection with listed providers and we quickly get them on the system.

We recognise that other activities and support provided by smaller organisations is also vital, especially groups and networks. We make sure we ‘plug in’ information available, where possible, through other sources about these activities so people can access those too.

The difference we make.  Local Authorities don’t have to spend many months mapping and recording information of highly variable quality that goes out of date.  We take the pain out of mapping and our flexible, dynamic system means we can add, remove and improve our information on an ongoing basis.

Reducing the gaps is our goal – cross sector up-to-date information is now possible!



PM’s announcement – great news, but how will people find the support?

The Prime Minister’s announcement today about increased investment in parenting, relationships and mental health is greatly welcomed.

Stronger families will lead to stronger communities and let’s see to ensure parents who gain confidence in their role, support their friends to do so too.  We welcome the focus for those parents who need to most help, but let’s not forget there are challenges for all.

Even more important is relationship support.  Relate do an amazing job of providing high quality support to couples, but there is very little else.  Parenting becomes a much harder job when there is not a stable relationship undergirding the family.  We trust that the increased investment will be used for prevention as well as breakdown.

Yet, still there is a fundamental issue being faced by every Local Authority.  How do we make sure information about services is available, up-to-date and accessible.  How do we make sure those in need of support, get the help they need – when they need it? 

It’s a constant challenge and one the CommunityConnect team is working hard to tackle.  We recognise that there are lots of amazing support services that people just don’t know about.  This can be because limited budgets mean organisations don’t have time, expertise or finance to make sure their services are publicised or it can be that they have enough people coming thorugh the door that they don’t need to advertise.

Our drive is to make sure that information can be found easily – especially for the people who are not familiar with ‘the system,’ but find themselves with needs and really don’t know where to turn.  Our goal is to make it possible to get the right support quickly and painlessly, even when you don’t know what is available for you!

We have piloted the CommunityConnect model in Barking & Dagenham – mapping local service and making it very easy for people to find the support they need.  That includes making sure that parents know what support is available and couples know who to turn to – it also highlights the lack of such provision – thus why we welcome David Cameron’s announcement.

We want to make this service available in all Local Authorities, across the UK.  Strengthening families, individuals and the community – joining up what already exists and narrowing the gaps between support services.   

Knowledge Empowers

I recently supported a friend who was struggling to get the help she needed from a mental health service. When she called, she was put on hold or fobbed off and this was causing her great distress.  I offered to call the department for her.  I was slightly removed from the situation, not distressed and armed with knowledge about what she was entitled to.

I was her advocate – it led to us being put through to the right people who were able to get provide the support she needed that week.

Things like this happen all the time.  I can think of times (to my shame) when I’ve been the one on the end of the phone blocking someone! It’s not malicious, it’s just priorities, perception or criteria and sometimes only the people slightly removed can work through that with the ‘blocker’.

So…..do we need to make sure information about local ‘advocacy’ support is available to people who struggle to get the support they need?    Yes, but maybe we need to keep this professional service for those more complex situations.

Knowledge empowers – imagine something as simple as more people knowing more about what support/help is available and how to get it.  Knowledge empowers and like me with my friend, when we know what we are asking for, it makes it easier to get what we need.  As most of us have experienced, sometimes it’s just too hard to do on our own and so actually, the more people (friends/neighbours/family) who are empowered with knowledge, the more likely an individual will get the help they need.

Equipping the wider community.   My friend needed support from a public service, but actually, at that moment – she really needed help from someone who could make a phone call and understood what support should be available to her.  People are falling through gaps because accurate, up-to-date information is not easily accessible.  It’s just not okay!

No one ‘owns’ general information, I get that, but let’s make sure as service providers, we don’t become complacent or arrogant thinking people can easily find us.  Let’s own our specific information and make sure it is published accurately.  Then maybe, just maybe we can reduce the gaps ensuring a problem doesn’t become a crisis for those we serve.

So my call to you – the service providers is let’s do our part in sharing information to the wider community.  And my challenge to you – the wider community – be ready to be that friend when you meet someone too overwhelmed to do it alone.  

Pursuit of the Holy Grail

What ‘Holy Grail’? Well for anyone working in communities it’s ‘joined up provision’.

We long to see it, we moan it’s not there, we cajole one another for change, we develop databases (spending lots of money). We even try talking to one another!  

Yet for the 20 something years I have been working in communities, we never seem to quite achieve what’s needed.  Well, not for long anyway.

Maybe because it’s no-one’s actual world, more a series of interconnecting circles that we are all part of but none of us own.  Maybe it’s just human nature that we work in silos, only looking over the wall when we need to and so we’re not committed to the time it takes to keeping the connections.  Maybe we’re all just too busy and under-resourced!

Could it be that this Holy Grail is unattainable or are we all just a bit scared that we might have to accept that we’re not the only support around?  I’m sure that couldn’t be true, yet every time I have set up a new programme or service, it has quickly developed into a more ‘rounded’ provision.  ‘People need more than one thing,’ I cry.  ‘People come to us cos they feel safe, they might not go elsewhere’.  So the ESOL trainer, starts to help people with housing issues, welfare benefits etc.

Could it be we actually quite enjoy our growing knowledge that we can share and help people with? Are we willing to recognise the expertise and knowledge in another organisation might be better than ours?!

Yet – what if, there was a tool that enabled people to genuinely find out the answers themselves, maybe with assistance initially and in the ‘digital by design’ world, it became easier to get to the right person for the right service.

That’s the road we’ve taken – a journey of mapping services, building pathways, overcoming technical disasters and changing behaviours to see if we can be the first to truly discover the Holy Grail.  Follow us on our pursuit….[and start with the short animation on this page]

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