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What Do You Have to Lose?

I was very interested in a recent blog written by the National Care Forum’s Executive Director, Vic Rayner, titled ‘Politics of Geography…’

While Vic’s blog focused primarily on the impact of health inequality on life expectancy when comparing the most and least deprived areas of the country. There has been much discussion about the ‘North South Divide’, but we know there are areas of deprivation right across the country, including in London and the south east. We also know that there’s no magic money tree that will be shaken any time soon to meet these major societal challenges! So, what can we do? What should we do?

For many years, I’ve felt that organisations that provide social care could do more to connect with their local communities. As a Chief Executive running a large social care organisation, I established the post of Community Engagement Manager and I gave him the challenge of ‘breaking down the walls of our care homes and inviting the community in’. He was up to the challenge and within months we’d established new and lasting relationships with local businesses, increased the volunteers in many of our care homes, produced a toolkit to help Home Managers to recruit and support volunteers and invited many local organisations including a local National Childbirth Trust group, and local churches to hold their monthly meetings and regular services in our care home ground floor café areas! So what’s this got to do with Vic’s blog? Well, it prompted me to think again about the wider role care providers could, and arguably should play in addressing the health and social inequalities in the area they operate in! I can already see you rolling your eyes as you read this and hear you saying ‘listen, we have enough on our plates trying to achieve a ‘Good’ CQC rating and retain the few staff we have, but please hear me out!

I believe that care organisations who are ‘Here to Serve the Community’, especially those in the more deprived parts of the country can not only survive, but thrive. Yes, it would take a small financial investment and a lot of will, but I believe the return on that investment would be significant. What if ‘breaking down the walls of your care homes, and inviting the community in’ reduced staff turnover and sickness, increased the number of volunteers in your homes and reduced the workload of staff, increased unrestricted income through fundraising?

What if breaking the walls down reduced the Three Plagues of loneliness, helplessness and boredom of your service users, and ultimately changed the feeling of negativity that surrounds many of the most deprived areas in the country? What if breaking down the walls changed the public’s perception of what care homes do and changed the narrative from the negative press stories and hidden camera exposes to care homes being vibrant and engaging places to be. Why wouldn’t care providers at least consider it? I believe that these are some of the genuinely achievable results if care providers have the courage to reinvent themselves as being ‘Here to Serve the Community’.

In many areas, local care homes and care organisations provide the most stable employment opportunities and by proactively connecting with the community, they can establish themselves as the employer of choice in an area. By connecting with local groups, care providers can build trust in communities that can increase the vital private client bed occupancy, help improve staff recruitment and retention. We’ve all now seen the benefits of inviting young people into care homes to spend time with service users, but with the closure of hundreds of youth clubs across the country, could the invitation be extended to teenagers to use (with the supervision of volunteers!) the communal spaces that often go unused in the evenings as a social meeting space and interact with service users, thereby maybe engaging the next generation of carers?

Taken to the ultimate end point, I believe that local care providers could position themselves at the centre of the ‘social and societal ecosystem’ that for generations was the glue that held many of the areas in the country that are now some of the most deprived. Could local care providers be the catalyst to bringing local people and voluntary groups together to give them the confidence and even the support needed to lead the community transfer of local libraries, transport and health promotion initiatives.

To many under pressure care providers, this is a nonsense idea and total pie in the sky. Maybe so, but for many of those same care providers, they’re slowly dying a death by a thousand cuts so what have you got to lose?

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