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Towards a vision of welcoming, connected and self-supporting communities – a blog by Nick Sinclair

The vision of Local Area Coordination is one that is shared by most of us; a society where people live in welcoming communities that provide friendship, mutual support, equity and opportunities for all.  It is a vision that is very much focussed on building on strengths rather than deficits and nurturing natural, supportive connections rather than relying on services.

The Local Area Coordination approach in communities is therefore one that is focussed on helping people to get involved and contribute their gifts with those around them in spite of any barriers to inclusion. Coordinators are on hand to help people build bridges between groups, help people identify funding, help people establish and sustain new groups and support people to use their voice in order to co-design public services.  This aspect of Local Area Coordination is highlighted very clearly in the following example from London Borough of Haringey:

Local Area Coordinator Andrea started in Hornsey in October 2017.  The area is a predominantly residential one in the west of the borough.  Hornsey isn’t an area characterised by issues surrounding poverty and deprivation, but it has a large population of single person householders over the age of 75. 

It soon became apparent to Andrea that loneliness, isolation and lack of support around low level care needs were prevalent for many she was walking alongside.  Conversely, it was also evident that there was a growing, spirited community of younger people and families moving to the area keen to connect with and support those around them.  The issue was that there were few natural opportunities for people in that community to meet, interact and come together. 

Having identified this, Andrea approached a contact at the Bridge Renewal Trust, a community development organisation operating predominantly in east of the borough. She also approached the chair of the local Community Centre who she had met several times before as part of her wider work.  Andrea explained what she had seen and they discussed potential solutions that could make the most of the assets in the community.  Working together, they came up with a new idea that could help individuals to achieve their visions for a better life through hyper-local neighbourliness.  The idea of Big Up My Street was born. 

The challenge was to find ways to work within existing community infrastructure to support people who had expressed a desire for companionship and possibly low-level support to connect with those around them keen to help.  Andrea knew from her discussions with people in the community that there was a very real concern around asking neighbours for help, whilst on the other hand people keen to help were worried about how their approaches might be interpreted. 

To get things started Andrea, the Community Centre and the Bridge Renewal Trust set about leafletting a select number of streets, inviting people to the local community centre for a meeting to discuss and further co-design the idea.  The response was very positive with people from both sides of the perspective coming together to discuss, contribute and express an interest in being involved.  The idea grew in concept as one owned by the community from the outset. 

For Local Area Coordinator Andrea, this approach has given her a clearer idea of who wants what and how to go about supporting people to arrange that.  Andrea has started to make introductions, helping broker the relationship and exploring what both parties need in order for the relationship to work well and to be sustained. 

A few months down the line and the Bridge Renewal Trust are now seeking funding to bring the concept to more communities and are exploring other avenues of its application. The local Community Centre, which is now being accessed more as a result of a raised profile, is positioning itself to be the ongoing “host”.  There are also several new, innovative ideas coming out as a result.

This very intentionally light touch approach is helping to galvanise some natural and supportive neighbourly relations in Hornsey.  It is becoming clear that Big Up My Street is a welcomed addition to community life, creating stronger, more inclusive and self-supporting places and spaces as a result.

This excerpt is taken from our latest report ‘It’s Time for Local Area Coordination’ Read the full report here.