Sunday, June 23, 2024

Ageing Well in Torbay

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Our featured account continues their week, with this in depth look at their Ageing Well in Torbay community initiative.

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is an effective approach to restoring a culture of involvement and a sense of community.

Only a coherent community, fully alive both in the world and in the minds of its members, can carry us beyond fragmentation, contradiction and negativity, teaching us to preserve, not in opposition but in affirmation and affection, all things needful to make us glad to live.”

Wendell Berry

Local people are better equipped to build their community than anyone else. An ABCD approach encourages them to come together to determine their own futures. To become more involved in making their neighbourhood  more hospitable; a place where they can age well together, share in the bringing up of children, care for the marginalised and feel good about themselves and their community.

The ABCD approach is to deploy trained Community Builders to act as catalysts for the social change that people say they want to see. They make new connections among people and deepen the relationships between them. Each person is valued as a human being with an innate capacity to co-operate with and to care for others and is regarded as an unique individual with practical experience, insights, knowledge, skills and local connections to bring to the table.

The assumption is always made, (yet to be disproved), that everyone has something to contribute to the health, well-being and safety of others – that in every neighbourhood there is an abundance of such hidden treasure waiting to be discovered.

Pressures on welfare professionals predispose them towards the view that ageing is a problem. In reality, it is just another stage in life, bringing with it certain challenges for sure, but, like any other stage it is as much an exciting, rewarding and enjoyable prospect as we want to make of it.

“The older I get, the more I feel almost beautiful

Sharon Olds

Research shows us that the best way to have a life-enhancing old age is to enjoy an active social life involving a whole range of meaningful relationships.

To this end, welfare thinkers have embraced asset based thinking and recognised the need for respectful, resilient and resourceful informal social networks. Timebanking is a social innovation which grew out of asset based thinking and has been successful in creating new friendships and strong social networks in many disadvantaged communities. Time Banks, like many others, have found that there are some very specific beliefs that can create barriers to stimulating informal care and more connected communities in the UK.

Generally, people today report that they:

  • Are reluctant to offer unsolicited help, people like to be asked first.
  • Tend to be ‘overcome with shyness’ when it came to asking for help from others.
  • Believe that they have nothing of value to offer to others in their community.
  • Feel that they ought to give unselfishly and yet disappointed when they didn’t receive help in return

Community Builders, (and Time Brokers), have overcome such barriers by getting to know people and by gathering together and retelling stories of when people did join together to make things better for themselves and the wider community. By naming and describing all that people and groups have done to contribute to the common good in the past – and what in truth most people know how to do but have forgotten in the present – they facilitate the growth of a more positive attitude towards the future.

And they capture loads of inspirational stories!

Opportunities to make tangible differences to community life are then organised by the Community Builders. They are continually looking for what it is that people are prepared to do for themselves and others. Together they develop these ideas, form groups, make connections and gather resources. ‘Matching Funds’ are often used to provide seed money for these action groups; local people pledge time which is matched by small amounts of cash.

Then the Community Builder steps back to allow the local people to do it for themselves. To be the change they want to see.

Their achievements are regularly broadcast to the wider community through the media, social media Apps and ‘magazines’ and by word of mouth so that more and more local people join in the task of defining what is to be done.

More conversations, celebrations, social events, ideas fairs, performance art, story telling, community lunches and street parties encourage ever more people to come together freely and by common consent to pick up some of the responsibility for making the neighbourhood the sort of place in which they would all want to grow older.

These activities widens the circles of participation, contribution and inclusion and in time everyone’s focus shifts from what is wrong to what is strong – and to what can be built upon to be made even stronger.

Once ‘enlivened’ communities are better prepared to join forces with professional agencies to co-produce consensus building collaborations that mobilise all of the under-utilised ‘community assets’ that are present everywhere.

These most commonly include:

  • the skills, knowledge and connections of local residents
  • the collective power of local informal associations and clubs
  • the resources of public, private and non-profit institutions
  • the physical places and mediums of exchange* (*e.g. Timebanking)
  • the shared stories, culture and heritage of local communities

Community Builders help weave the fabric of the neighbourhood. They bring together the natural ‘connectors’, people who know their neighbours and know what is happening in ‘their patch’. The connectors reach out through learning conversations and find more people like themselves. They become the eyes, ears and hearts of the community and make contact with the most isolated and those who may hitherto of been labelled as ‘hard to reach’.

Among the many techniques and theoretical approaches used by community builders, (and their bands of connectors), are Appreciative Inquiry, Asset Mapping, Co-production, Timebanking, Positive Deviance, Non-Violent Communication, Salutogenesis, Transactional Analysis and story-telling.

They engage fully with the associational life of the area; the clubs, groups and networks of unpaid enthusiasts contributing to the arts, sports, faith, environmental and leisure activities.

They bring to centre stage people’s strengths, stories, ideas, hopes, skills, passions and connections and get them to act upon them.

Slowly, broader community building themes emerge that form both a vision and a plan of action for the future for all involved.

Long term success depends on the continued use of an asset based lens through which to look at the world and effective collaborations with other community/person-centred preventative approaches.

Early examples of which in Ageing Well in Torbay are the Pioneers programme, My Support Broker and Social Prescribing.

Throughout the process statutory and voluntary agencies welcomed and hopefully participate in a ‘Community of Practice’ where are encouraged to shift their role from being innovators to enthusiasts for social innovations that are driven by the community.

Deficit based thinking can then be reserved for professionals charged with servicing what is left to do after the community has done what it does best.

Deficit Approach:Asset Based Approach:
Focus is on needs and problemsFocus is on assets and strengths
Problem responseCaring and connected communities come first
One way servicesReciprocity and mutual aid
Contracting AgenciesPeople power
More services and more usersMore participation
Main emphasis is on AgenciesCommunity driven
Interact with individualsInteract with social capital
Fix peopleDevelop potential
Answer is programmesAnswer is community

The community is best placed to understand exactly what it is that local people care about and what they are prepared to do to change things in future. Asset Based Community Driven change is how ‘Ageing Well’ can harvest this potential contribution to a beautiful area like Torbay and significantly increase the possibilities for people to grow older better together.

Boost News Desk
Boost News Desk
Robert Haylor has 14 years of web development experience, starting out as a web developer whilst still in his university dorm room at Birmingham City University. With a background and a strong interest in website design & development he is skilled in a variety of programming languages including PHP, MySQL, CSS3 and HTML5. As Managing Director of Boost Digital Media, he regularly jumps on to client projects on a daily basis as well as ensuring the company strategy is being implemented and is delivering results.

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