The Renaissance of Civil Society

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Steve Hawkins is the chief executive of Local Solutions https://www.localsolutions.org.uk/ , a charity that has been part of Liverpool life since 1974 offering services to our vulnerable and disadvantaged residents. In 2013, Local Solutions was added to the Freedom Roll of Associations and Institutions of the City of Liverpool.

Here, Steve reflects on how his organisation has continued serving our communities throughout the pandemic and how he believes that social care will benefit from the better understanding of the vital role it has in our communities.

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When the history of this crisis is written, it will be a triumph of people over process. It is no coincidence that many colleagues in our organisation and beyond have expressed how brilliant the teams at Liverpool City Council have been in demonstrating flexibility, innovation and compassion. They have put their shoulder to the wheel helping frontline service providers like Local Solutions by minimising financial pressures, ensuring cashflow and maintaining regular positive engagement to provide updates and reassurance.

Although some of this is driven from central government, believe me when I tell you that we in the charity sector have felt the local love.

Here at Local Solutions, we are working with the city council in the areas of social care, domestic abuse, support for unpaid carers, homelessness and anti-bullying. Our collaborative partnership has ensured that those most in need continue to receive crucial support in this difficult period. Some examples of how this is being achieved include:

Social care provision — Homecare, our social care service is playing an even more crucial role in supporting 520 vulnerable people in their homes and is coping extremely well. It has been heartening to receive so many compliments from families acknowledging the continued operation and duty of care under demanding conditions.

Like many of Liverpool’s social care providers, Local Solutions is part of the Liverpool Home Care Providers CIC https://www.livhomecareproviders.com/. It has been inspiring to see the productive joint efforts of the CIC to support relationships between providers for the greater good. A mix of civil society and private organisations, the CIC is a real credit to public-facing services in our area. It has been working round the clock securing PPE for our care workers, which is a constant anxiety, particularly due to the ever-changing guidance from central government.

Domestic abuse support — The lockdown has sadly seen a surge in calls to domestic violence helplines as vulnerable adults and children are in consistent proximity and isolation with perpetrators. Our domestic abuse work continues, unabated, in supporting those affected and suffering the additional burden that this situation brings.

A grant from the Steve Morgan Foundation has enabled us to run an advertising campaign for the Worst Kept Secret, promoting our freephone helpline and website to encourage those in abusive relationships to seek help. These promotions have been wide-reaching through the Liverpool Echo and our own websites and social media. Realising that lockdown may make it difficult for victims to make a call, we have now set up an online chat facility to enable people to make contact confidentially.

Support for young homeless people — Young people living at our Homeground Hostel are being supported to connect with family and friends during lockdown. The team has developed alternative approaches to support delivery, with a focus towards more creative activities including painting, crafts, baking, dress making, health and fitness and gaming. The project has received a lot of support from local businesses and charities, including food supplies, and gaming equipment. We are learning rapidly that the digital world has so much to offer those distant from labour markets and other healthy interaction.

Staff from Supported Lodgings, who provide for homeless young people and care leavers in family-style accommodation continue to help young people and householders remotely. Adhering to social distancing measures, the team is offering Walk-and-Talk sessions, where a member of staff will go for a walk with a young person who is particularly struggling with their mental health.

Other vulnerable young people who receive support through our AIMS service and Young Person’s Hub continue to be supported via phone and video calls. The team has developed a booklet on self-care and we have secured funding from the LCR Coronavirus Community Support Fund to help young people who would normally access our Hub to help them with living costs such as food, utilities and other emergency items.

Liverpool Carers Centre — Unpaid family carers are particularly isolated at this time, with many unable to have contact with family members and friends who usually provide support. Our Carers Centre team has been reaching out to carers, providing them with practical and emotional support, as well as continuing to carry out carers assessments. We have also launched an Online Carers Centre, with carers able to take part in Health and Wellbeing activities and connect with other carers online. So far, activities have included coffee and chat, calming craft and cookery demonstrations.

Bullybusters — Albeit schools are very much part of the lockdown, our Bullybusters team remains active in pushing out the anti-bullying message and continues to address the increased risks of online bullying. Our helpline remains open to ensure vulnerable young people have a contact number and stay safe.

Shopmobility — Although both our Shopmobility sites are closed, our customers — mainly people with mobility restrictions — have been offered the opportunity to remain supported via our Carers Health and Wellbeing service. Should they so wish, our customers can participate in our virtual programme of activities and can also access our pre-recorded sessions such as cooking demonstrations, how to shop online, how to obtain prescriptions online and relaxation techniques.

In addition, thanks to funding secured from Liverpool City Council, we are delighted to have been able to purchase much-needed scooters and other mobility equipment. This will undoubtedly enhance our service, once it is re-opened. As well as providing scooters and wheelchairs for hire, our Shopmobility team are experts at providing reassurance and helping people to regain their confidence around enjoying everything Liverpool city centre has to offer — it strikes me that this support will be needed more than ever after this period of self-isolation.

Liverpool City Council’s other third sector partners will undoubtedly echo my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for their support at this time. Together, we are ensuring that thousands of vulnerable people in our region remain supported and protected from the harmful impact of this crisis.

One of Local Solutions’ trustees said to me he had never known a period where decisions in the public domain have been made so quickly. But then, he is too young to have lived through the war years. It seems bureaucracy has discovered a swiftness and flexibility that is more familiar to autocracies than advanced democracy. But is there any going back? Take the approach to Universal Credit applicants — where claimants often expect to wait five weeks for vital funds. Wasn’t this the primary factor behind the explosion of foodbanks? Suddenly, money is now made available immediately. I wonder in future if the general public will allow dreadful consequences to flow from ponderous bureaucratic processes without loudly asking, or even shouting WHY?

On a practical level, I hope this crisis provides a springboard for the emergence of social care as a profession of equal esteem to that of NHS nursing. It is no longer acceptable to pay dog walkers more than we pay people in this noble profession. So when the history of this time is written, I hope it will be seen as the beginning of the renaissance of civil society and the central role of the public sector. And for many of the individuals — especially our social care workers, a poem similar to Laurence Binyon’s, “For The Fallen” will emerge. The statistics will show that as a community, we must never forget their contribution. We will remember them.