Love, Care and Happiness: Telling The Story of Great Social Care

2016-09-20-13-45-21As you may know I’ve been doing some work with Calderdale Council‘s Adult Social Care service to tell the story of how Social Care is being delivered in the district in very trying times.

There can be no denying that Social Care is suffering due to the twin pressures of budget tightening and increasing demand. In many areas this is resulting in collapse of services which are buckling under the pressure. And yet, wherever I go in Calderdale, people keep telling me that things are different, that difficulties are being overcome, and that good quality social care is being made to work. As far as I can tell, this is being achieved by a combination of imaginative and flexible commissioning by the Council and managers and staff of providers who are prepared to go the extra mile. And, in the main, they do this because they care. A good friend of mine, Mike Chitty, once said to me “people can’t be paid to care”. I think he is absolutely right, but it is also true, in some cases, at least, that caring professions attract caring people, i.e. people with heightened degrees of empathy and a mission to help their fellow humans. Could it be that there are more of these kinds of people in Calderdale than elsewhere? I suggest this is unlikely, but from my experience, they do seem to be harnessing more of such people’s talents and enthusiasms in pursuit of common goals.

And I think it is vital that we tell the story of how this is all happening so others can learn from it. As I often say – if people doing good work shy away from telling their story (often shrugging and saying “I’m just doing my job”), they leave the way open for others to distort what they do (look at TV programmes like “Benefits Street”, “On Benefits and Proud”, etc.).

So, here is the video diary I shot after visiting Valley View Care Home in Halifax. This is where I started expounding my view that the ultimate aim of social care providers is to ensure the happiness of the people they care for, and that, thus, Social Care is the Happiness Business.

And then I met Mark Coup, Owner of Welcome Independent Living, based in Hebden Bridge, who told me some great stories about how his staff go beyond the call of duty to show they care.

At the end of a day when I had flitted around the District visiting providers and advocates in Halifax and Todmorden, I paused before getting back on the train to record this video diary in which I, a bit off the cuff, tried to sum up what I had seen and what I thought summed up a great Social Care provider. I think the basic agreements are Love, Care and Happiness.

And so, here is the video I was making, which kind of sums all this up in the words of those running great social care organisations, and some of the self-advocates who work with Lead the Way, and the Council.

If you’ve got a great social good story to tell, and would like me to help you tell it, please get in touch.


Internet Radio for the Technophopic?

Over the last few months, I’ve met a few people whose older Irish relatives living in the UK are distressed because RTE Radio has ceased broadcasting on Long Wave and can therefore no longer be received in mainland Britain. This has prompted me to restart an investigation I mused about a few years ago.

It is, of course, possible to listen to RTE Radio anywhere in the world via the internet. But with the Irish diaspora, as with many other groups, there is the issue of older people who rely on it but are not capable of making the switch to online listening because they are not comfortable with new technologies. So, is there an option for listening to internet radio that is very easy for someone who is technophobic?  There are a number of standalone internet radio sets, but I have never come across one which is particularly user-friendly (please let me know if I’ve missed one).

So, I have been thinking about a couple of potential options. One is Amazon Echo, which has recently arrived in the UK. This would definitely do the job, as Adrian Scaife of Tunstall Healthcare demonstrated for me when I visited Tunstall’s Mary’s VIP Home back in July. The video of that demonstration is below.

The Echo is a great device, but £150 is a bit pricey for many people. Especially if its main use will be as a radio.

So, another option might be to get a cheap Android phone, some are going for as little as £30 these days, and set it up so that you can use Google Now to voice-activate radio stations through the Tunein Radio app. The issue with this is that you’d probably need to connect it to a decent speaker for it to work effectively, which will add to the cost and make it a bit more complicated. Of course, if the person already has speakers or a hifi system they could plug it into, that might solve the problem. And perhaps if the person has a relative who has upgraded their mobile phone, they could donate their old phone for this purpose.

I’d be interested if anyone has other solutions. This could really help some older people who rely on familiar voices from back home. It would not just be good for people of Irish origins, but for all kinds of other groups as well, and even for people, like myself, who live far away from where they grew up, but might like to listen to local radio from back home.

Any other ideas?


Don’t Let Them Tell You The Web is Isolating

Carnegie UK Trust has produced a great piece of work on Digital Participation and Social Justice in Scotland, you can find it here. It a fantastic report, not least because it is short and to the point. It is focused on Scotland, but those of us who work in digital inclusion can see that it applies equally to the other countries of the UK; or anywhere else really.

It is important because it is evidence. And, for me, one of the most striking factors about it is that it demonstrates how people who use the internet are better connected, healthier and more prosperous. The “better connected” thing is worth thinking about. I am really fed up of people who keep telling me that the web and social media are isolating us, making us lose our communication skills, making us stop talking to our friends. When the reality is that its effect is the exact opposite of all those accusations. It brings people together, helps us find new friends, and helps us communicate in new ways. Here is the evidence.

So the next time someone tells you the web is isolating, and they’re the kind of person who wants to see a report before changing their opinion, show them this one.

Addressing the Web Skeptics

Last week I presented at the ARCH (Association of Retained Council Housing) Tenants’ Conference in Leamington Spa. My theme was about Digital Engagement of Tenants. At the beginning of the afternoon workshop, I asked who, in an audience of about 40 people, had never used the internet. 2 men at the back of the room put their hands up, so I told them I hoped I would have convinced them they were missing out by the end of the session.

So, at the close of the workshop, I asked the 2 skeptics if I had changed their minds. One wouldn’t say anything. The other proudly told me he had not changed his view and went on to expound his theory that the internet has stopped people from learning things. That, because people now have information at their finger tips, and access to tools such as spell checks, there is no incentive actually to learn things any more. I explained my view, that having the internet at our disposal encourages us to be more creative, and to use the parts of our brains formerly dedicated to storing information for activities which allow us to deploy our skills and abilities to more effective ends. He wasn’t having it, I’m afraid.

Fortunately, I got a lot of positive feedback from the remainder of those present, and a number of people came forward to tell me I had inspired them to want to use the internet in ways which had not previously occurred to them. But I couldn’t help thinking about those two skeptics and all the things they are missing out on. The truth is the opposite of what that man claimed it to be. Closing one’s mind to the possibilities offered by the web is the ultimate act of refusing to learn. I personally will not rest until I have got everybody to understand that.

The view from my Belfast AirBnB appartment

Why I Never Believe in Stereotypes

The view from my Belfast AirBnB appartment

The view from my Belfast AirBnB appartment

Last week, I spent a couple of days in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. My first ever visit to either, despite my maternal grandparents being Irish. I really wish I had gone before, I had a great time in both Belfast and Dublin, both when exploring the cities and when working. The work bit was delivering a couple of workshops on “Engaging Tenants Through Social Media” for the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH). I met some really lovely people at the workshops, and I hope to be back to see some of them again soon.

This post is about stories, you probably thought it might be. I stayed in places I found through AirBnB in both cities. My host in Belfast was a really lovely man. He told me he was born in India and had lived in Belfast for the past 8 years. When I asked him how he found it, he said “this is the calmest and most peaceful place I have ever lived in”.

That phrase really struck me, because, I would like to bet that most people who have never been to Northern Ireland, but who, like me, grew up while the “Troubles” were at their height, would probably think that “calm” and “peaceful” would be the last adjectives anyone would think of to describe Belfast. But, the reality is that the city has been pretty much peaceful since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

What this said to me is that you should never judge a place until you have experienced it. I believe that about people and organisations too. That’s why I am committed to helping people tell their own stories, and advise that they don’t let others do it for them.

I found Belfast to be a lovely city in my brief stay there, and I can’t wait to go back. Don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you it’s a grim, troubled place.

The story of my trip to Belfast and Dublin can be found here.

The Big Fidh


Time for a Social Housing Sharing Strategy?

You’ve probably heard a lot about the Sharing Economy, but you might not know what it actually is. There is some debate about this. At its heart it is about people using their assets and skills for economic benefit. Some argue that that the more apt name is the Rental Economy. Examples of this kind of activity are things like AirBnB, Lyft, and Uber. What people are doing in these examples is not really sharing, they are renting their assets out. There are examples of sharing where people barter goods and services, but what the new wave of so-called sharing platforms do, is basically to use the internet to allow people with resources to offer them for hire to those who need them. Is it really sharing? Well, no, but, for the seller it can open up otherwise unused assets to generate economic benefit, and for the purchaser it can enable them to afford to do things they otherwise would not. I was prompted to write this post by news of the launch of Waze Commute, which allows commuters to find drivers commuting their way and pay them a modest amount for joining them for the ride.

It seems to me that social housing residents could benefit greatly from greater application of these kinds of approaches, but that they are probably benefiting least from them. I have been encouraged in recent years by the growth of the Asset Based Community Development movement, which emphasises the strengths available in communities rather than the deficits, but I’m not sure how far that is being translated into the economic sphere.

And a major consideration in all this is the relatively high level of digital exclusion among social housing tenants. While the so-called sharing platforms thrive because of ubiquitous internet access, and, particularly use of mobile internet, many social housing communities remain excluded from this party. I know as well, from personal experience, that some social housing tenants can be resistant to embracing the internet because they are reluctant to share their personal details and data online. So, I would suggest that any strategy to realise economic value from assets, skills and services in low income communities must have a digital inclusion strand at its heart.

I believe we need to start a debate about how social housing tenants can be included in the “sharing economy”. Who is up for that? Mabe a Twitter chat, a roundtable, or an actual event?




2016-08-17 12.09.00

Millom Really Gets Digital

2016-08-17 12.09.00

Yesterday I spent an extremely enjoyable day with the residents of Millom Court in Timperley as we launched Millom Gets Digital which is the first step in Trafford Housing Trust‘s strategy to bring wifi to its Sheltered Accommodation schemes and promote the wider digital inclusion of its tenants. I was really grateful to be invited into the home of the residents and it was fantastic talking to them about their lives and how technology might enhance them.

It was a great help that the first person I met when I arrived was Dorothy who was bent over her tablet using Facebook. She quickly volunteered that the introduction of wifi to the scheme has been immensely beneficial to her as it means that she can see and talk to her son and grandchildren in the USA on an almost daily basis. There turned out to be around 5 out of the 25 or so residents present who already were using some kind of digital device on a regular basis. This was very pleasing as one of the aims is to get residents to pass on their skills and interests to their neighbours.


So, Jim Tunstall from THT, Lee Omar from Red Ninja Studios, Louise Rogerson from Intelsant and myself spent some time talking to the residents, telling them stories about the benefits of new technologies, and encouraging them to try out some new tools. Then we discussed people’s hopes and fears about new tech. The first comment from a resident was that she felt strongly that people should stop staring at their devices and talk to each other. We countered that argument by pointing out that the majority of new technology use is indeed about communication, and that it gives people the opportunity to talk to anybody, anywhere in the world. This point was backed up by Dorothy’s experience of talking to her family across the Atlantic.

We carried on talking, experimenting, and playing, over lunch. Gradually some of the more reluctant members of the group started to soften their attitudes and little victories were being won all over the room.

As we reconvened after lunch and further discussed some of the issues raised it became apparent that there were a small number of committed technology users who were very pleased that the wifi had been installed and extremely keen that it should stay. It is currently free to use on a trial basis and THT are looking for some evidence of the direct benefits it brings to people’s lives before deciding (a) whether to retain it at Millom Court, and (b) whether to roll it out to other schemes.  This should provide a further incentive for the committed residents to act as digital champions for their neighbours, as wider use is necessary in order to collect the proof.

Today was further proof for my beliefs about the effective routes to digital inclusion, namely;

  • begin with the power of communication and fun uses of the internet. Getting to grips with these will develop digital fluency and allow beneficiaries to tackle utilitarian uses at a later date;
  • nobody who doesn’t work in a office has any use for a desktop PC, and not many need a laptop. Touchscreen devices are the most effective gateway to the internet for novice users;
  • you will never convert every member of a group on day one, and it is futile to try. Start with those who already have some interest and get them to cascade that interest to their neighbours. Eventually, even the most reluctant will realise they are missing out on what everybody around them is benefitting from;
  • internet use is one of the most effective means of keeping older people’s minds active. It should be available on prescription.
Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 16.42.34

Millom Gets Digital

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 16.42.34

Next Wednesday (17th August) I’ll be with Trafford Housing Trust launching a new Digital Inclusion Project at their Millom Court Sheltered Complex. Also involved with the project are Lee Omar of Red Ninja Studios, and Louise Rogerson of Intelesant.

Wifi has been installed at Millom Court, and on Wednesday we’ll be starting the process of firing up the residents to want to use it to bring them closer to their friends and relatives, re-kindle their memories, make their lives easier, and improve their health and wellbeing.

I am really excited to be involved in this project, and I hope it is the first of many on this kind of model. If you are going to be anywhere near Timperley on Wednesday, I’ll see you there.


Why Senior Leaders Can’t Afford to Ignore Social Media


I’ve been thinking a lot recently about management and leadership and social media. And I’m thinking about this in the context of the world I inhabit most of the time, that of the public and voluntary sectors. I know a number of senior managers and leaders who are great on social media, but I also know a lot of people who are still complaining that their access to social media and other useful tools is restricted in the workplace. More than 10 years after social media use first became widespread, there are still a large number of organisations either not taking it seriously or blocking it.

This is a really important issue in today’s networked world. Social media and other new technologies have changed the world of work for most people. They have caused organisations to work in more open and collaborative ways, they have flattened hierarchies, and they have allowed like-minded individuals to find and connect with each other to pursue common goals. But, there are still organisations who are oblivious to these changes, or who are actively resisting them. This is bad for their organisations for a number of reasons:

  • People are using digital tools in their private lives and they expect similar experiences when they go to work;
  • Organisations not using modern tools risk being outflanked by those that are;
  • Deploying social media and modern digital tools makes work more interesting and fulfilling, meaning staff are more likely to stay with the organisation, be committed to its vision, and produce better work.

So, what does this mean for senior managers and leaders? Well, surely that point about flattened hierarchies is some kind of threat isn’t it? Maybe not, considering that organisations are indeed changing. The fact that social media in particular allows leaders to tap into knowledge, expertise, and enthusiasm wherever it exists in the organisation has to be an opportunity.

And it is certainly true now (possibly more than ever before), that leadership and status are not necessarily correlated. What social media has definitely done is to highlight where the thinkers, the innovators and the change makers are in organisations and make them visible to the outside world. These kinds of people are not always at senior positions in the hierarchy.  There have been far too many examples where such people have been frustrated that their ideas have not been taken up, and they have subsequently left the organisation, in many cases to establish their own startup companies. One of the key challenges for leaders in the second decade of the 21st Century is to provide opportunities for all staff to contribute to the mission, feel valued, and understand that they have opportunities to progress. Even organisations which ban staff access to social media need to be aware that this is not a foolproof strategy for suppressing criticism, as staff are quite capable of communicating via their smartphones, or in their own time outside work. It is thus far better to offer opportunities for people to make their contributions as part of their work rather than outside it.

I maintain, therefore, that we are no longer in a world where status automatically begats respect as a leader. That respect has to be earned. If you are in a senior position in a large organisation, how do people who work in it, who may never meet you, or do so rarely, get to know you, and work out whether you are deserving in their trust as a leader? We all know that “management by walking about” is a good strategy, but, when the organisation is above a certain size, that may not be practical. This is where social media is your friend. Developing a good social media profile can bring you closer to your staff, as well as enabling you to make those contacts which tap into knowledge and expertise which doesn’t reach you through the usual channels which exist in hierarchies. If you want an example of how this can work, have a look at the public profile of someone like Sir Richard Branson who has been extraordinarily successful in a range of different business spheres, but has managed to maintain his “nice guy” image. Branson is a living embodiment of the power of public relations, and it pays to be aware that good relations internally within an organisation are at least as important as those with external bodies and individuals.

The openness afforded by social media has transformed what it means to be a leader in the modern workplace. But, if you are not already active on social media platforms it can feel like a scary place to venture in to. Because there is no deference on social media. If you are starting from scratch, you have zero followers, and people used to being listened to by virtue of their status in the hierarchy can feel this is like starting out all over again. But the things to remember about social media are:

  • It is a slow burner, and you need to build profile and reputation over time;
  • You can use it to connect with peers in other organisations who have already been there and done it;
  • Unless you are a celebrity, a politician, or someone who deliberate courts controversy and offence, social media tends to be a friendly place, full of helpful people (that’s certainly been my experience over the last 10 years).

A high profile on social media is an essential part of any manager’s toolkit in the current climate. If I can help you on develop your practice in this area, please get in touch