Author: Tim Keilty
We are New Prospects and we’ve been supporting people with a learning disability for over 20 years. We support people to live the lives they choose whether they need support 24 hours a day or just a few hours a week. We’ve learned a lot over the last 20 years from the people we support and their families, and we’ll keep on learning and changing to make sure we stay focused on giving people what they want. We are small, local and well connected. Being small doesn’t mean we don’t think big!
At our AGM in September 2012 we got together with the people we support, their families, our staff and the Board of Trustees to create our new vision statement and to work on the five promises we make to everyone who is involved with New Prospects.
Now our vision statement is:
We believe that every person has something to offer each other and to the community. Together we will open doors to build a welcoming world where everyone has the right to live the life of their choice with respect, encouragement and the chance to grow. We will realise potential and support each other to get the best out of life.
Our five promises are:
So with all of that in mind, if we truly believe it, what might our support look like?
Values in Action! We’ve always believed in the skills and talents of the people we support and had faith in the capacity of the communities we work in to be welcoming. New Prospects' Community Networks are a new and exciting way for people to make the most of their support, their community and their own skills. Four people join a network and each pay towards the cost of a network facilitator.
Like many of the great ideas in the north east, community networks have the fingerprints of Kate Fulton all over them. The idea is a pretty simple one, one borrowed and adapted from KeyRing and Neighbourhood Networks in Scotland. In the mire of the unnecessary complexity of personal budgets, everything about Community Networks is simple, how much do they cost? £40 per week. Simple but elegant.
So the idea is people do a quick bit of planning: where do I live and how far will I travel? (Quick!) What have I got to offer my network and the community? What do I want out of it? What am I prepared to put into it? Pretty simple. I've become a bit wearied by amazing stories of people white water rafting or skydiving, although part of me wants a story like that! The reality of the networks has proved to be a bit more mundane, a bit more real, a bit more everyday. People rubbing along together and creating a collection of 365 'everydays'.
So the brave group of Community Network pioneers agreed to give it a shot, pooling some of their support to see what happens. The deal is, if it turns out to be a big heap, they've lost nowt and can go back to the support they've always had. From the first Network 'get together' in the Queen's Head in Cullercoats, they got it; got the idea, the maths, the ethos. Nobody asked 'how does it work?, or 'how many hours do I get for that?' There weren't even any 'what if's'.
The network members immediately offered their skills, 'well if you need help to do shopping it's ridiculous getting somebody else to do it, I walk past your door to do mine'. That isn't a solution that came to fruition in the Community Network but it's a great example of the conversations we've had, and how elegantly simple it is.
So for the past few months Malcolm, Neil and Gary have formed the first Community Network supported by New Prospects. As the network facilitator, the most important part of my work has been to make it feel like a network, encouraging people's contribution, and doing some practical tasks, ringing around, writing the odd letter and knocking on a few doors.
Having a blackberry has helped:
Sitting in the Queen's Head Neil says: "I fancy joining a choir". Seconds later we know that there's a male voice choir that meets in Cullercoats primary school. "I can't really sing like, only know one song, that Lindisfarne one, you know the one that goes..." "Lady Eleanor" says Gary. "Aye, that one."
So my job as a network facilitator leads me to ringing the secretary of the choir and asking "Do you mind a bloke coming who can't really sing?" And the true answer: "As long as he's not too loud."
None of the glossy stories really matter, here's one that isn't glossy:
Malcolm goes on a health walk every Monday. Neil (who I supported 24 years ago) has become a bit isolated in his house, a bit cut off, a bit lost perhaps but he wants to get a bit fitter. So, I arranged to meet Neil at North Shields metro one Monday morning. He was fashionably late. We walked together to the start of the health walk, pointing out Malcolm's house as we passed. I introduced Neil to the walk leader, helped him fill in a form, then we went for a coffee. The next Monday I rang Neil at 9am reminding him it's the health walk: "Oh aye, I'll think about it" is the response. A week later I forget to ring Neil in the morning but ring him later in the afternoon and he's been on the walk and knocked on Malcolm's door on his way. Perhaps in the past Neil would have had some one to one support to join a health walk, or even just go for a walk. Now Neil goes every Monday and he and Malcolm support each other.
Gary is a great information gatherer - he’s got an ‘ease card’ application for Malcolm to get him into places cheaper. Gary also brings fliers along for things going on in Whitley Bay so other network members can benefit - he’s going to support Malcolm to go swimming with him on Wednesday nights.
Gary loves gardening and Neil has endured it in the past in the village community where I first met him, so we've got a plot at Whitley Bay Community Allotments. Neil and Gary can go together, go separately or go with me and there's a plot, a polytunnel, a shed - a place to belong.
Malcolm is a bit more enigmatic, a bit more difficult to pin down. I asked him the other day what he gets out of the network, he said: "It's great, I feel like I'm part of something." If I blew the dust off his support plan from social services I'm sure it would say something like 'support relationships with his peers' or 'increase community participation' or something about 'meaningful' activities. Whatever it says, job done I reckon.
The support which network members offer each other, means they can do extra stuff together - last month we went to Ponteland to see the place where Neil used to live and I used to work. It was just 4 blokes in a car, funny and free: "Where shall we go next, Morpeth?" "Aye, howay then." Lush, lush stuff.
So no glamour, not many photos to show but some powerful comments from network members:
If it wasn’t for the network I’d be stuck in the house putting on more weight
I really like getting together and mixing with other people
The network makes me feel part of something – where I can share what I’m good at
There's a bit of a danger perhaps of this network turning into just a social gathering of three blokes, (a large part of me thinks 'so what?') so to temper that I've created an almost subconscious 'contribution sandwich'. Malcolm really wants to go to the top of St Mary's lighthouse. It'll be good fun but I've suggested a meeting with the Friends of Briar Dene (a group of volunteers who care for a local beauty spot) to see if the door I've nudged open leads to the opportunity for some of the network members to offer their undoubted gifts.
The network facilitator will be guided by our manifesto:
The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.
How We Try to Keep Our Promises © Tim Keilty 2013.
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