Heart and Hope in East Ayrshire

In East Ayrshire work is well underway on an approach to community involvement in planning and commissioning services, known as the Heart Model. Commissioning officer Paula Raymond spoke to the University of Strathclyde’s Talking Hope project about how Heart is building hope for communities and the council.

Traditionally, at East Ayrshire we commissioned services as we prescribed them, and as we wanted them to be delivered. Since then, our approach has evolved, in response to both the Independent Review of Adult Social Care (the Feeley report)  and The Promise.  We have a ten year plan – and there is a lot of work to do.

Heart is about developing a more place-based community hub model, based around six hubs, to respond to local need. Before, there was little consultation with communities, clunking on with the same old services. The hope is that eventually all of our services – commissioned and statutory – will have a base in these hubs, dependent on the communities telling us what they need. It’s the first time that we’ve ever actually asked the communities ‘Is this still fit for purpose? Is this what you need?’

Having staff based within the communities, that in itself is going to break down quite a lot of barriers for people. East Ayrshire’s quite a dispersed authority, there’s wee pockets of communities in very rural areas down the south of the locality, with terrible bus links and things like that. We’re taking services to the people and not expecting them to come to us, that’s the aim.

We’re also aiming to build new, kind of, community centres with rooms that each organisation can use and have access to. There’s also going to be kitchens for families to come along and have peer cooking groups and stuff like that. It’s going to be a hive of activity, where folk just come along and that’s the centre of the community. That’s the aim, that’s the hope.

The needs will vary across communities too and our understanding will be based on what communities tell us.  This is also where the data that CAMHS shared with us comes in very handy, shared via Eileen Bray who is part of the Talking Hope project. They were able to break it all down by locality – which really helped us see where there were clusters of need which we can link directly to our review of services for children with ASN and disabilities.  It was so interesting to see high levels of referrals for those groups in CAMHS too, and map that against levels of poverty. Ultimately, this is about trying to be smart, with joined up thinking.

Feeley and the Promise tell us that we need to commission services that are stigma free, criteria free and accessible to children and families; when they need it and as they need it with no sense of shame, and we are working hard to take that on board. It doesn’t matter whether it is addictions, welfare benefits, whatever people need help with. They should only need to present to one person who can triage and signpost; families shouldn’t need to know about all of the complexities behind the scenes.

There was huge learning during the pandemic when we lifted some of the red tape around our commissioned services and we weren’t holding services so strictly to what we had commissioned them for. And, what we found was that they were able to meet real need as it cropped up, in very, very practical ways. So, it was things like food parcels, topping up electricity meters, good beds, and children’s play equipment. There was also a massive upsurge in communities wanting to volunteer to help each other out, so we thought it would be much better to tap into that feeling of wanting to help, of communities helping themselves. We know that some of the poorest families were getting their sleeves rolled up during the pandemic, and going in and helping more vulnerable families within their communities. We want to tap into that resilience. It can’t just be lip service. If you really want to put your money where your mouth is, it needs to be designed from the ground up and not the other way about.

My background is working in all the operational side of things. All my career, I’ve been frontline operational. This is the first job that I’ve had that I’m actually, kind of behind the scenes doing stuff. It’s been a great experience. And I think hope is the right word. A lot of my work over the last year has been about consultation with families and communities and asking them what it is that they need. I’ve only been in post for about four years, but I don’t think we’ve done that before.

The co-production model has been a big part of this. For example, we were reviewing our East Ayrshire Women’s Aid service recently, involving the women, and the service as well. It felt as if we were writing the service specification together. We were able to say to the women, ‘What do you need?’ And then ask the service, ‘Are you able to commit to this? Can you do this?’ The outcome was that the women very much helped to shape the service specification as it is now, in ways that mattered to them. They’ve been part of conferences since then and are going to be part of training inputs for our social work teams and procurator fiscals, so it’s given them a wider voice too.

The other thing that I’ve been working on is reviewing our children with disabilities service.  I was involved in focus groups with the parents and carers of children with additional support needs. Just sitting down and asking these families, what do you need and how can we best respond? It has been an absolute eye opener and what comes up is very, very different to what we’re providing at the moment.

You know, it’s simple things that people are telling us they want. One thing was peer support. We were able to facilitate connections between new parents of children with additional support needs, with experienced parents that have been doing this for years and know where they can get support and stuff. We made sure that we’ve got social workers from the disabilities team dropping in on an informal basis. And from those discussions, the families were telling us that they didn’t want their children being stigmatised by getting shoehorned into mainstream children’s sporting events and activities. They wanted specific activities and events for their children, managed by staff with relevant experience. So, again, the families are forces of nature and they were on our steering group to get a whole programme of summer activities planned. We were able to just write a wish list and go for it. But again, it’s the families that have been right in the middle of it, designing it, organising it, getting all the rest of the parents engaged and so on. We see it as: we’re paying for the premises and they’re running the show.

And we’re talking about relationships. I didn’t know these families before. They came along to a meeting with a complete stranger. Their social workers were there from the disability team and they helped me organise it. And now I’m in regular email communication with them. It’s actually giving my job a new lease of life as well.

In terms of hope, sometimes those families feel very marginalized, as if they’re a bit overlooked in terms of social work spending and stuff like that. They’ve come along to these focus groups, and we’ve listened to what they were saying, and we’re responding. So, there is hope there. There is hope that the kind of statutory services like us are listening to what families are saying. It’s been a very enjoyable part of my job. There is hope that things are going to change.

Background to our blog

Designed locally by Andrew Bryers and mentioned frequently to the Talking Hope project by its social work partners in East Ayrshire, Grace Fletcher and Stuart Cooper, the Heart Model approach has been key to building stronger relationships with local communities.

Talking Hope is a Strathclyde University led project that has been connecting experience, theory and practice through conversation, to find hope with young people supported by services. Supported by partners in practice and academia over three phases, this project has explored how thinking and talking about hope promotes better futures for young people. This includes young people and the people who care for them, professionally and personally. Find out more.

CYCJ is supporting the Talking Hope project with communications.

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