Recently, Local Area Coordinators from across our Network gathered online, having found a precious hour to connect with each other to share learning and raise each other’s spirits. They have been doing this every week since the lockdown brought our normal activity to an abrupt halt like it did for everyone and everything else. Hearing them talk, I remarked how Local Area Coordinators had really “turned on a sixpence” in the situation. The term really resonated with one of the Coordinators, Penny, who brought the metaphor to life by sharing her experience of learning to drive in a London taxi cab which apparently have a very small turning angle with an ability to change direction, quickly and with powerful effect.
Local Area Coordinators really have had to turn on a sixpence. Unable to work alongside people and communities as they normally would, they have instead been supporting local government-led efforts to respond. Most areas, particularly the more established ones, have built on the strengths of Local Area Coordinators ensuring they are focussed on tasks that play to their existing relationships, skills and connections. Coordinators have been encouraged to carry on working, albeit in many cases remotely, with the people they were alongside before the lockdown. This has proved really important as these are people who are often on the fringes of their community for whatever reason. In addition, many Coordinators now have temporary new tasks within health and social care. Most of them are running some type of virtual community hubs, making welfare calls and taking introductions from colleagues running call centres, etc. Where possible, some of them are still out and about working in the community alongside food and medicine distribution efforts, for example.
Importantly though, all of them are finding ways to support the communities they serve to continue the good work they have started themselves. This has ensured those community-led responses are not lost in the mix of increasingly “higher level” planning but rather they have become the cornerstone of those plans. This appears to have been aided by the fact that Coordinators have a foot both within the communities they serve and within their local service land. It seems that Local Area Coordination has been able to help bring these worlds together in crisis times, just as it does in normal times.
With all this change, I have been really encouraged to hear the stories recently shared by Coordinators. They remain consistent with the principles of the Local Area Coordination approach, one that fosters local assets and favours people helping people over external service intervention. Here are a handful of examples:
- An elderly lady who loves singing has continued to do so over the phone with her Local Area Coordinator, but they are now connecting in together with others who share the same passion through an online choir group.
- One team of Local Area Coordinators has been ensuing people have mobile phones, helping them learn how to use them (at social distance) so they can stay connected with their neighbours, friends and family.
- One man with brain injuries who struggled to connect with people face to face has found he can do so much better online and has since connected with 20 people who live nearby.
- A lady who is mute hadn’t been in contact as she and her Local Area Coordinator usually met in the community. Using connections, her Coordinator reached out to the lady’s local church. Within two hours, a church member had gone to check and sent the coordinator a picture of the lady smiling at her door. The lady now has a phone and is able to text and keep in touch and the church members are now making more regular contact.
Fundamentally, it seems that during this time of crisis where we’ve all had to quickly turn on a sixpence, the values and principles that drive who we are and how we do it can’t be turned quite so easily!