In our recent report It’s Time for Local Area Coordination, Neil Woodhead, Derby City Council’s Social Capital Development Manager shared his insights from the last seven years of leading Local Area Coordination in Derby. In this excerpt here Neil outlines the crucial role that relationships play in making Local Area Coordination work. He writes:
“We introduced our first two Local Area Coordinators in the summer of 2012. What has followed over the last 7 years has been the most rewarding and humbling experience I could have wished for. I find myself in the privileged position of working in a role and to a set of principles that completely amplify my personal values and challenge me to be a better human being. What I now know, it’s not about the money, its ALL about relationships.
Exploratory conversations with the Local Area Coordination Network about Local Area Coordination started in Derby in 2011 and came at a pivotal time for me both personally and professionally. At work we were trying to find a way to support the last people in the city living in NHS accommodation to move into their own homes with a view to supporting their growth of a good community life and taking control of the support they needed. At home I was coming to the end of a journey I’d embarked on as a teenager, supporting my Mum as best as I could to move from a place where she was defined by her deficits – patient, client, bed blocker, service user etc. towards a focus on her many gifts as an inspiring Mum, loving Grandma, generous friend and neighbour. It was all about relationships.
In both instances I experienced a growing frustration. The professionals that visited my Mum with their best intentions and lengthy assessments were unable to support the transition from passive recipient of care to contributing citizen. The task was bigger than them. The same applied to the people I worked with who were trying to navigate their way back to community and family. It was evident that the development of loving relationships, meaningful friendships, connections, networks and the reduction of isolation that followed actually sits outside of the system’s gift. It was, and still is, ALL about relationships.
So, it was at this point that I found Local Area Coordination, or perhaps it found me? Over the years our little team of 2 has grown to 16 and we are now present in 10 of our city’s 17 neighbourhoods. When I look back at this journey I am filled with pride, and often tears, at the principled focus we have maintained as well as the humility and values team members demonstrate on a daily basis. We proudly continue to walk alongside the remarkable, innovative people of our city as they figure out the next steps in their individual and our collective journeys. Over the course of the last seven years I have witnessed an increasing number of my neighbours moving from being passive recipients of the service system to contributing connected residents. They did this through the relationships they developed.
As we look to the future, our maturing relationship with people living in communities brings real excitement and opportunity for much bigger system reforms. We must also constantly remain vigilant to the “pathway to the quick fix”, doing things for people rather than taking to time to look at each relationship with fresh eyes.
Thankfully our connection to the Network remains as strong today as it did on the day we started our journey. This has been a growing and crucial source of support and challenge. I am convinced that without the support of the Network the programme in Derby would have fallen by the wayside some years ago. Together we are definitely stronger, but then again, it’s ALL about relationships.
In Derby it feels as though we are on the threshold of linking some really powerful evidence to some truly inspiring narratives to really push for a different focus and conversation. This could allow us the opportunity to move our work to the core of the whole well-being system locally. Beyond that, our long established and cherished relationships with residents in our city present powerful opportunities we do not yet fully understand. As we continue to think about reframing conversations about what a good life might look like around here, one thing is for sure, it’s all about relationships.”