We have been running an urban community group for over 20 years with the mantra ‘upwards democracy’.
Our aim has been to empower everyone in our area consisting of about 20 streets, to be able to directly engage with our council officers, councillors, police and other agencies to directly voice their concerns, issues and ideas.
We have open, facilitated sessions with up to 6 representative speakers, which are usually attended by around 90-100 local people to discuss larger issues and we also organise mini forums to deal with more specifically localised discussions.
Our aim is also to enable our officials and representatives to have the chance to explain their difficulties in delivering services (complex new regulations, funding constraints, prioritisations)
This successful exercise has resulted in well-understood community and council cooperation and has also improved the well-being of our community (they feel more valued, secure and included) and of the local service providers (who also feel more understood and valued). With this spirit of cooperation as a background, we would like to suggest that all people in the UK should also feel more secure, valued and included with all of our service providers feeling better understood and valued. At the moment it is very much a ‘them and us’ relationship. This is even further magnified when people with learning difficulties, or other disadvantages have to approach formalised services.
Many years ago, in pre-internet days, my wife met a very distraught older lady at a local shop. She had lost her pension book and didn’t know what to do. Suzi brought her home and then proceeded to contact all of the people in the various departments who would be able to help her and then acted as her ‘P.A’ over a number of days to enable interim payments and to go through the process with her, until everything was resolved.
‘Mrs Coles’ did not have the worries and stress but also neither did the service providers have the additional stress in dealing with a very upset 90-year-old individual who had no idea about forms and formal processes.
It was a win-win outcome at both ends of the situation. Based on this early example we set-out to ‘do our bit’ for individuals who were around us and will continue to do this alongside many other ‘unofficial helpers’.
However, our idea now is that when people are worried about being faced with dealing with highly regulated and structured bureaucracy, that they can turn to a General Coordinator (Their local GC). This new role would provide them with an ally in linking people up to local or national government services, especially where it involved multiple departments.
This GC role would change ‘them and us’ into ‘us and us’, which is exactly what we have achieved with our community and its relationship with the council. The council is no longer a faceless ‘them’ and people often say ‘Ah maybe Jim Haynes could sort this out for us’.
The savings would be both direct cost savings in terms of efficient submissions and coordination of service responses and indirect in terms of human savings with less stress, tension and ‘feeling alone’ amongst the service users and less stress and job dissatisfaction amongst the service providers.
An ‘us and us’ people focused services approach would be a big UK wide win-win and we suspect make for a much happier society. Suzi and Peter Hawkins Suzi@caws-uk.org & email@example.com