Coproduction blog series: Collaboration, community and coproduction firmly at the heart
Community Catalysts has a strong partnership with national charity Macintyre and we share many of the same values and aspirations. Over the last few years, we have been working with them to design and implement a new approach which has come to be known as Great Communities. Great Communities lead Kathryn Yates and her colleague Michelle Wilkinson talk below about exciting developments in Chesterfield which have people, collaboration, community and coproduction firmly at their heart…
MacIntyre’s groundbreaking Great Communities Project in Warrington has brought together local people and helped them to work together. It has shown clearly that MacIntyre, a charity with a focus on people with a learning disability and/or autism, is much more than a ‘provider’ organisation. Great Communities has generated a huge amount of learning and a strong set of principles. The principles are:
- Connected not cut off
- Together not apart
- Citizen not service user
- Contributor not just recipient
Recently we decided to try and see if the Great Communities way of working and principles would work in another area.
So for the last 6 weeks, we have been testing out the principles in Chesterfield trying, as an organisation, to be a catalyst for positive, local action. MacIntyre already has a presence in Chesterfield, based in a local building we call a learning centre. We bring people together in the learning centre and support them to spend time together, in a safe space and do different fun, creative activities.
At the centre, we have always put people first – but the pandemic made us reflect on and question our practice. We realised that we had learned a lot in lockdown and with Covid restrictions ending we didn’t just want to go back to the old ways of working. As we discussed this, MacIntyre staff locally said things like “no one knows we are here.”
Together as a team, we decided we wanted to look outwards and bring people together. We decided we wanted to do more than ‘provide a commissioned service’ – to play a real part in the local community, and help the people we are commissioned to support to do the same. After talking to people we realised our neighbours and neighbourhoods have the potential to help people feel less isolated and part of something important.
Collectively, our staff, volunteers and the people we support have a lot to offer and give! So to fully understand and build on this we started by thinking about what we are good at and what we care about. We have a space – a big hall, with a fabulous kitchen. As an organisation we have infrastructure and skills around funding and knowledge around dementia and autism. And most importantly, we have people! The people we support and our staff are bakers, crafters, playlist makers, chatters, litter pickers, gardeners and tik tokers. We are community-minded and want to help keep our area tidy and share the good stuff – a brew together or learning a new skill.
We wanted to work alongside people to create conditions for them to be more active citizens. We know that Covid has made us shrink inwards to keep people safe and we know that when we are creative and trust each other that great things can happen. Following your nose is a good start and as we started to Google and Facebook locally we found so many kindred spirits and potential allies who offered support and advice.
Our local Social Prescribing Link Worker Karen is one of those people. Full of beans and ideas, Karen listened to us talk about our collective skills and talents and started to connect us to people locally. This included people who wanted to help, to give something to their community and have a purpose. As a result, one person now comes to the centre to help out with odd jobs – repainting the front door and cleaning out the fish tank. Another person is a singer and offered to run a singing class on a Friday afternoon. One woman, who lives with dementia, used to run a community lunch club for years before her illness limited her life. She offered to help us get ready for the new community roast by folding the napkins.
I did it for 25 years and now I’m helping you to do it…
…every little really helps.
In a relatively short space of time by looking out, rather than in, the centre has begun to open up, strong connections are being forged and all our lives have been enriched! Karen told us about a lot of people who are struggling with tech – devices that need upgrading or new skills that need learning. When we spoke about this as a group we realised we have the skills – tech knowledge and patience! So the new ‘Tech Wizards’ was born – developing a Facebook page and starting to build a presence in our locality. Gary, one of the Wizards said, “I like to be doing things, using the things I can do to help people in my community.” The Great Communities principles, people seeing themselves as agents for change, contributors not just recipients are key here.
It can be a bit uncertain and tricky at times because we don’t know where it’s going and we have to figure out how to work in a way that’s engaging and human whilst also being professionally safe. We are a commissioned provider of services but we want to be so much more than that! We want to be responsive and creative and lead from behind. Each little activity, action, change or development doesn’t look like much on its own but the principles and intention behind them are fundamental. Moving away from the charity approach of helping people by “doing to” the work in Chesterfield is being “done by us for us” and that is really exciting. As we build together we all know it is a genuinely coproduced, collaborative, inclusive whole community approach. And for the people we support, it’s about people and purpose, citizens not service users. And those are the kind of principles that are well worth striving for!