Emerging from lockdown – weaving a different picture

4 August 2020 · Categories: Local Area Coordination Network, Opinions and responses

In this thought-piece Angela Catley, Director of Development at Community Catalysts, explores how we can weave together the different threads of social care, local economies and good jobs, communities and the environment into a rich tapestry and vibrant future for all. 


Gosh it’s been a challenging few months hasn’t it, one dominated by tales of loss and real fear but somehow underpinned by the power of the shakeup. As we begin to take our first steps back to normality it puts me in mind of a childhood memory of leaving the cinema (it was called the pictures back then) with the bright daylight hitting my eyes and the need to quickly readjust.

So now we are in that transition period where we reflect on what has happened, worry it might happen again, and plan what needs to happen next. Within our organisation, and I suspect many others, this currently means lots and lots of reflection and discussion and connection.

We can see starkly the huge gaps and challenges created or revealed by the pandemic. Shielded people fearful of emerging; financial uncertainty facing many; care homes facing the sustainability challenge of less residents and even less appetite for congregate living; digital exclusion; a health service stretched thin and local government on its financial knees.

We can also see the amazing strengths and opportunities created or revealed by the same pandemic. Citizens who stepped up in their droves to help others in their community – connecting, making, and delivering; public sector bodies using pragmatism and partnership to make stuff happen – busting down bureaucratic walls carefully constructed over decades; social care, – its daftness, and dysfunction under a spotlight; everyone – in every sector, on every Zoom, from high to low saying ‘we must not lose what we gained’.

BUT, and it’s a big but – what the heck do we do with it all? How do we weave a totally new picture and avoid the rapid reconstruction of the walls as each sector and silo and area and tier makes its own plan?  In our world of community and care and health and public sector transformation we see several strong threads that urgently need grabbing and weaving together.

Thread one – social care

Work undertaken by our partners Social Care Future to try and shift the narrative from ‘care for’ to ‘care about’ from ‘services and tasks’ to ‘help to live lives’ and from ‘catastrophic timebomb’ to ‘positive life choice’. A recent paper from ADASS on social care reform that starts to explore the sector through a much wider lens than the ‘personal care’ one so often used. The Stories of Promise from TLAP demonstrating clearly that different and better is possible.

I saw this brilliant graphic the other day produced by the UK Homecare Association which I hope they don’t mind me sharing it here. I think it was designed to demonstrate that homecare supports many more people than care homes – which it does well. To me what it demonstrates even stronger in the huge orange and red chunks is how many people get the care and help they need from people, organisations and groups that are not even viewed as social care. Sadly, the sector is still seen by many as the tiny range of services at the bottom of the pyramid, those regulated by the Care Quality Commission, offering ‘beds and calls’. And I question that if we can’t even SEE the breadth and depth of diverse supports in the orange and red chunks what hope do we ever have of real change?

Thread two: local economies and good jobs

In lockdown lots has been written about the importance of jobs – jobs at risk in sectors like retail and hospitality that have been particularly challenged by the pandemic; jobs created in sectors like retail, delivery and health which have been at the forefront. Conversations we’ve been having such as those led by CLES on community wealth building are clear that whilst all jobs are important, good, local jobs that contribute to the local economy are key to a successful recovery.

At its core is a focus on forms of business which are locally owned and create a multiplier effect of benefits for local people, employees and communities…organisations who generate wealth that is retained in the community, rather than being extracted out to distant shareholders

Then we spotted an excellent paper from the Women’s Budget Group exploring the potential for a ‘care led recovery’ and evidencing that the care sector – in its widest possible sense – creates 2.7 times more jobs than the construction sector (the Government’s first choice when developing recovery policy). This together with the paper community micro-enterprise – drivers of local economic development written by the New Economics Foundation detailing the real economic impact of small enterprises within the adult social care sectors shows clearly that care creates good jobs that contribute to local economies and has the real potential to create many more.

Thread three: community

Over the last few months there have been so many strong pieces written by a range of authors all putting strengths, community and the connections we have with others at the centre of any Covid recovery plan. We are an enthusiastic member of the Better Way Network and believe strongly that their guiding principles have real relevance to the challenges we face as a society:

  • Prevention is better than cure.
  • Building on strengths is better than focusing on weaknesses.
  • Relationships are better than impersonal transactions.
  • Collaboration is better than competition.
  • Mass participation is better than centralised power.
  • Local is better than national.
  • Principles are better than targets.
  • Changing ourselves is better than demanding change from others.

Work led by Cormac Russell and the ABCD movement around the world and by the lovely Camarados movement also stands out. The need to focus on strengths not weakness, connection not competition and local not national seems so blinking obvious it shouldn’t need stating…but sadly somehow it does.

Much of the citizen and community narrative talks about people helping each other, being neighbourly, accepting and hospitable. Real social care, the kind most of us aspire to, the kind that cares about rather than cares for, the kind that is about so much more than beds and calls, the yellow and red bits of the inverted pyramid – seems a hairsbreadth from the neighbourly vision of the community movement. But somehow a hairbreadths seems a million miles when viewed through a different lens.

Thread four: environment

I saw a cartoon the other day which showed the UK as a small island facing a series of disastrous incoming waves, each increasing in size and tsunami impact. The first wave was Covid, the second, higher and close behind was Brexit and the final wave, huge and overshadowing the other two was climate change. Its hard to know what to do in the face of such a huge challenge and the impotence alone can mean you end up doing nothing. As we emerge from Covid there has been a strong and growing narrative linked to the greening of towns and cities and the growth of outdoor activities such a cycling. Community Catalysts is proud to have joined the Build Back Better campaign which puts environmental issues at the heart of its Covid recovery plan. We and they recognise that part of being green means being local, travelling and commuting less, investing in local places and spaces and connecting with others in your locality to do the same.

Weaving one big new tapestry

So as local and national leaders and movements shape their particular narrative and build valuable partnerships we are heartened to see different threads starting to weave together – bits of social care weaving  with community, bits of community weaving with environment, bits of local economy linking  with social care and so on. Stretching the analogy, we can see real potential for this weaving  to produce several lovely, tiny tapestries that mix different threads and sectors. What we can’t see though is anything or anyone who has a vision for a huge new tapestry , weaving together perspectives from all the 4 threads and of many more.

In one bit of our world we support small enterprises, that are run by local people, rooted in their community, that support others in ways that sometimes cross the line from neighbourliness to care. These small enterprises create local jobs, keep local money local and avoid excess travel. They invest in the strengths of local people and build from their community up. Individually they are amazing and collectively they are a force to be reckoned with. In another bit of our world we see Local Area Coordination, led by local Government, creating good local jobs, coproduced with local citizens and communities, investing in place and helping people get the support they need – caring about not for.

We know have the makings of a small but stunning tapestry, the kind that could be of real value to our society and communities over this coming winter and beyond. We are looking for allies and creative crafters who like us are up for a collaborative weave – joining their threads with ours to make our small textile something much more substantial and impactful. We know that post Covid and beyond that many small weaves, however vibrant, just won’t be enough.

by Angela Catley – Angela.catley@communitycatalysts.co.uk

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