Big Lessons and Looking Forward

31Aug10

In the age of the Big Society, more than ever before, it’s vital that we begin to think increasingly about unlocking the potential of service users themselves (you know, the likes of you and me) to reimagine local services and help them cope with the increasing strain on their budgets. Luckily, as we reported from last week’s Reference Group, it seems there is plenty of willingness to develop community networks by helping each other out.

“The group of people we need to engage in our social action strategy are those I would describe as community activists… they don’t have the time or inclination to run a social programme with all the responsibility that involves, but they do want to help…. we need more community activism, and more community activists.”

David Cameron introducing The Big Society

So how can Have a Go Heroes play its part in helping a truly Big Society become a reality? Can we create something that helps organise ‘community activists’ so it’s easy for them to get involved? Here are some thoughts we’ve had from last week’s session:

  • Older people want to offer help as well as receive additional support
  • Being involved in support services seems the easiest way to meet new people and strengthen neighbourhood contact
  • Older adults are keen to get to know young people
  • The ability to get out and about in their local area, even for a short while, is important to many people’s daily routine
  • There seems to be a gap between feeling comfortable asking for professional support and being able to rely on informal community links

Future Thoughts

As we have blogged about before, it would be interesting to think of a way to design young people into Have a Go Heroes as a service – and our findings from last week seem to reflect older people’s willingness to strengthen the relationships with those in their community outside their immediate age group. Evidence in the area also looks positive, a recent study highlighting that some 71% of 18- 24 year-olds said they would not be too busy to spend time volunteering, as did 61% of those 65 and over (compared, for example, with some 60% of 25 to 34 year olds saying they were too busy). Universities often have well established volunteer programmes, so we would be keen to have some conversations on how this age group would feel about providing this informal, social support.

The Senior Corps programme in America recently caught our eye, as it’s not just about older people receiving support from their community, but how they can contribute and become involved in it, as the website explains:

“Americans over 55 have a lifetime of experience to share, and the desire to make a real difference in their world. They’ve managed households, been business owners and nurses, farmers and salespeople, artists and executives. Now they are ready to put their unique talents and expertise to work in their communities, and enrich their own lives in the process.”

This particularly struck a  a chord with us as the older people we have been speaking to clearly prefer service support in places where their skills and experience were valued. For example, volunteering at the local church or coming along to reference groups. By creating a scheme that allows older people to use their talents, experience and interests to help others out as well as connect them with their local area, we might encourage people to get involved and hopefully combat problems of loneliness and isolation. This fits with our findings in Bradford, where it seemed older people valued the support services and social contact when they felt they could offer something in return.

Everyone can be a hero…

So as we move forward, we’d like to think now that everyone could be a hero, and Have a Go Heroes could become a tool to allow people to connect, swap skills and build networks together. The image below is just a snapshot of older people offering skills, time and experience in exchange for the support we found they valued from our previous reference group work:

We’re now looking towards having some wider conversations with other groups (younger people for instance) and getting going with the design process.

If you’d like to get involved, or know someone who could help, we’d love to hear from you by commenting below or sending us a tweet.

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