It takes a certain amount of courage to ask people to tell you what they think of you. And it takes a relaxed, informal atmosphere to encourage people to be open and honest. And so it was when Cherwell Care, a home care provider in Bicester, invited their clients along to an innovative “Growing Our Community” event – and really listened to what they had to say.
The afternoon started with a Whose Shoes? workshop – with a difference! In addition to the normal Whose Shoes? scenarios, looking at all aspects of personalisation from different viewpoints, there were new scenarios exploring key issues around maintaining or regaining independence in the community. We looked specifically at mobility, nutrition, use of technology and the wider challenge of “staying connected” in the community. We considered the roles of not just family and friends and informal carers but people such as bus drivers, shop assistants, hairdressers… people who really have a chance to influence whether older people “have a nice day” – or not!
There was a real buzz in the room. A constant stream of post-it notes was fed through to Carrie, our talented graphic facilitator from New Possibilities in Birmingham. Before long the huge blank piece of paper on the wall was filling up with words and pictures reflecting all the “expert by experience” points that were being made about what it is like to grow old in the 21st century.
The rest of the afternoon passed in a whirl – socialising over a traditional afternoon tea with tiered cake stands and posh tea cups; a “growing” demonstration by “the Flowerpot Men” including how to grow your own vegetables, even in tiny spaces; and new friendships
blossoming. Because it was half term, carers were invited to bring their children in to meet clients who had heard all about them over weeks, months and sometimes years. Children always bring a lovely vibrancy and this was no exception, but something really appreciated by staff and service users alike.
We wanted to capture the event in ways that would be truly memorable and interesting for the participants. People were relaxed as they chatted on camera…
We even got a few people tweeting (see #cherwell!) as they embraced the possibilities of new technology. The snippets that emerged are what makes an event like this so worthwhile – good and bad, and there were plenty of each.
We all know that money is tight in public services but there is a danger that “the cuts” becomes an excuse for totally unnecessary poor practice. Examples such as one lady feeling obliged to get out of her hospital bed to help others who couldn’t reach their drinking cups, and another saying she was not allowed to help set the table in her day centre unless she was wearing rubber gloves(!) are just a couple of “care nuggets” to make us hang our heads.
Fortunately, there were really positive examples too! Age UK Silver Surfer courses had brought a whole new life to one man; helpful families, neighbours and reliable care staff were similarly much appreciated. Also meals delivered to the door; alarm systems to reassure the family; and recommended, trusted handymen. There was special praise for a bus driver who always waited until everyone was seated before setting off, thereby giving people confidence to use public transport.
There were lots of great suggestions that would not cost huge amounts of money: more seats inside shops, use plain English rather than business jargon (they didn’t like the name “personalisation”!) and practical sharing of ideas and simple tips – a rather deaf couple now know how to get subtitles on their television!
People went away with potted plants that had been generously donated – a practical reminder of the gardening demonstration. The owners were visibly thrilled to have had the chance to meet their clients and were open to new ideas and improvements. Owner Graham Barclay said “We have a real opportunity to develop the service in line with clients’ wishes. This will be really crucial over the next few years”. Similarly, his wife Eileen flagged up a communication issue: “ the clients don’t know how to go about approaching a social worker or their local GP” and pledged to help them get the information and advice they needed.
Finally, the whole team, led by expert consultant Philippa Codd, the mastermind of the event, studied the messages and wonderful images Carrie had recorded and looked to the future. “More functions like this” was emblazoned in large letters across one part of the mural.
Somehow I think that this event was just the beginning.