As I enter my third week as Community Catalysts’ new Local Area Coordination Network Manager, the many conversations I’ve had already leave me feeling hopeful. Hopeful because Local Area Coordination offers a real alternative to a broken system that treats people as problems to be solved. I’m also hopeful because, in the short time I’ve been in my role, I’ve met so many inspiring, thought provoking, principles-driven practitioners who are changing what it means to offer a public service. Starting my week feeling hopeful got me thinking about the role of hope in Local Area Coordination.
Hope is tricky to define and we will all have an idea of what hope means to us. For me, it’s an idea of what we want to achieve and the future we can imagine for ourselves. Hope is a motivator that gets us out of bed in the morning, but for us to maintain and achieve our hopes, we have to see a route towards what we hope for as well.
For people navigating systems (whether it’s housing, health and social care, or benefits) you often hear about the same kinds of experiences. From the moment you ‘enter the system’ you may be encouraged to manage your expectations. If you don’t hear that message directly, in the process of navigating the system – the loss of control, not knowing who to go to for help, being told to hurry up or slow down, and getting passed back and forth between services – often causes people to give up on their hopes anyway.
Local Area Coordination is different. From the very first introduction, Local Area Coordinators encourage the person they’re walking alongside to talk about their vision for a good life, not built around what’s wrong, but around their hopes, interests, strengths and connections.
Local Area Coordinators are based in the community and know the local area, so are well placed to help people identify their path towards what they hope for. That journey happens at their pace in a way that makes sense to them. Local Area Coordinators may simply be with the person, in each other’s company until the way forward becomes clearer. When the time is right, they can help to build connections within communities which help all of us to live a fulfilling life, and if necessary, can also help people to get the support they want and need from services. Local Area Coordinators don’t have eligibility criteria, and don’t have a series of pre-determined targets they are working towards. Instead, they are guided by the 10 principles of Local Area Coordination.
In my first few weeks I’ve already heard so many incredible stories about the difference Local Area Coordination can make, whether it’s people leaving their homes for the first time in years, or people finding ways all sorts of ways to contribute to community life. As we start to see widespread adoption of Local Area Coordination from Councils, the NHS, CCGs and other public services, more stories like these be heard coming from every part of the UK. That’s something worth hoping for, and a path worth walking.
Tom Richards is the new Local Area Coordination Network Manager, supporting the continuous development of Local Area Coordination across the UK, and growing connections between network members.