Last week I had the pleasure of collaborating with a contingent of people from Swansea, giving an online presentation on how Local Area Coordination had responded in Swansea during Covid times and our collective vision for its future across Wales.
The event was kindly hosted by Julie James (MS for Swansea West and Minister for Housing and Local Government), Mike Hedges (MS for Swansea East) and Rebecca Evans (MS for Gower and Minister for Finance and Trefnydd) who are all passionate advocates for Local Area Coordination having seen the impact it has had in their Swansea constituencies. It was attended by 60 people from both Welsh Government, the Voluntary and Community Sector and interested people both from Wales, the UK and internationally.
The Welsh national policy framework arguably contains some one of the world’s most progressive legislation. Acts such as the Wellbeing of Future Generations outline the moral obligation and system change needed for a fairer, more equitable, more inclusive Wales. We see strong evidence from Swansea Council’s Local Area Coordination programme (and from other sites across the UK / world) that the approach brings this sort of values driven and principled policy thinking to life.
I was struck (albeit not surprised) by the outpouring of positive comments about Local Area Coordination following a series of excellent presentations from the Lord Mayor of Swansea Mark Child, Senior Local Area Coordinator Ronan Ruddy and Head of Adult Social Services, Amy Hawkins.
Hearing them speak so passionately really emphasised to me the impact that the approach has had in Swansea over the last 5 years. In understanding how and why this has happened though, I wanted to share here a transcript of Serena Jones’ (Exec Director for Operations for Coastal Housing) outstanding presentation, because for me, Serena says it all:
“This pandemic has brought into sharp focus what matters to all of us and going back to the way things were before simply is not an option. Local Area Coordination presents an opportunity to turn the world of community development the right way round. It is tried and tested, has an international evidence basis and is a genuinely preventative approach – living and breathing the motto ‘get a life, not a service’.
At Coastal Housing, we’ve invested many years in continually studying how systems of work are designed to meet what matters to the communities we serve. And it’s the design of Local Area Coordination that makes it so special.
- Coordinators are recruited by citizens in the communities they then work in – relationships are formed from day one (well, before day one!)
- Coordinators are locality, not needs orientated – they relate to people and communities, not problems or labels
- Coordinators are organised around populations of between 8-12,000 with boundaries designed by communities, not authorities
- Coordinators walk alongside people to surface strengths and connect people to others who share similar passions
- There are no thresholds or eligibility criteria
- Relationships aren’t time bound or limited
- There is a deliberate reframing of institutional language (introductions, not referrals) – subtle reform agenda is so powerful
For the last five years or so here in Swansea, we have worked as a leadership group to keep true to these principles, keep citizens stories and experiences front and centre and have grown local area coordination which meant that when coronavirus hit, the citizen led hyper local networks were largely already in place.
Having been involved with Local Area Coordination here in Swansea pretty much from the outset, I think there are a few ingredients that make the recipe for success
- Council leadership – the leader and the cabinet have continued to believe in local area coordination and provided the necessary political leadership for it to thrive (hats off to Mark Child – personal leadership on this has been exceptional)
- Strategic partnership group – all Swansea based housing associations invest both money and time, along with other statutory and voluntary groups and have both championed local area coordination and facilitated good working relationships with coordinators. Academic input too from Swansea University has been invaluable. This group has ensured local area coordination has maintained high fidelity to the model.
- Local Area Coordinators themselves – who have largely had to unlearn old ways of working and have thrown themselves in, whole heartedly, to community life and development. They have been exceptional.
We’re at a unique crossroads in history. This public health crisis has been, and continues to be, one of the biggest challenges of this generation. We’ve seen bureaucratic organisations unshackle themselves to do what’s right, we’ve seen communities self-organising to take care of each other and we’ve seen that when the chips are down, it is our micro neighbourhood and public infrastructure that we can depend on.
Local Area Coordination isn’t a community development programme that abseils conditional cash in to a neighbourhood for a limited period and abseils out again, it’s about the long haul and the hard yards. It’s about being alongside people navigating the toughest of challenges and asking questions like ‘what do you care enough about to act on?’ It’s about being alongside people as a fellow traveller and nurturing the connections that bring purpose to life.
We’ll never have an opportunity like this again. For all the trauma this pandemic has brought, it’s also shown us that many of the old ways were not the right ways and I hope that in the future, all communities in Wales will experience the incredible impact of Local Area Coordination.”
Watch the full video below:
If you’re interested in finding out how Local Area Coordination could develop in your area, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org