I’ve known Jennie for some time now (in true York fashion we used to live in the same street 10 years ago!), and have watched admirably as the Local Area Co-ordination network has continued to embed and grow into York’s social sector. These roles are an absolute lifeline for thousands of vulnerable, marginalised or isolated York residents and I can’t overstate how important they are to the very fabric of our city. So it’s a great pleasure to be able to interview Jennie for our Introducing…. series and find out more.
What do you do, and how do you benefit the local sector?
Local area coordinators are embedded in the wider system and communities – we each cover distinct geographical areas at a grass roots level, working alongside citizens and groups to promote wellbeing and a good life for all. We do this through various ways which are led by the local people who know best what their community needs. We are also very much embedded in the wider system, in a really broad sense – because we can support people with anything and everything they come to us with it is so important we have a good network of system partners to link in with and work alongside. So, I hope we bring a lot of varied benefits to the local sector through this support and partnership work – probably at the heart of all of it is strong values around the power of connection and collaboration and an infectious flexibility.
What inequalities in York are you most passionate about and why?
All of them!! Social inclusion is a central value underpinning the LAC model and something which all LACs are very passionate about. Equality of opportunity and rights is what we strive for in the work we do walking alongside people and in system change, both locally and nationally. This can range from helping people to challenge mental health discrimination in the workplace, explore increasing inclusivity for disabled people with local groups or increasing opportunities for those facing poverty by developing flexible and accessible funds for them to overcome barriers to living the life they want to live. I strongly believe the work we do every day helps to bridge equality gaps. We don’t just do this in individual circumstances, but also by gathering the stories of people’s experiences and raising them to a strategic level to influence and action long term cultural change and re-design of public services. In the long term we are working towards a fairer system and society and most of us have life experiences which drive us towards this.
Who are some of your favourite organisations in York and why?
This is a really difficult question to answer as we work with so many great people across the city and so many great organisations doing fantastic things. At present I am in awe of all of the amazing social action in the community and the network of community foodbanks which have been keeping people fed and offering other valuable support during the pandemic. Many are volunteering their time and have endless good will and compassion – they don’t question how or why people need help and just get on with giving it, which is great! This very much aligns with our own model and values. The LAC team have also been doing some great partnership work within the Council and Health services linked to the Northern Quarter Project – which is an approach to transforming mental health care and support, embedded in the community and creating a no wrong door ethos. Outside the Council we are doing some exciting work with Changing Lives Drug and Alcohol service who have been providing much needed support to people over recent months with rising levels of substance use to cope with pressures. They are expanding their services to offer more provision in the community, such as a new peer support recovery café at Tang Hall Community Centre which is being planned for opening in the new year. Exciting work to address the longstanding issues related to Dual Diagnosis are also underway, which is something I am really passionate about.
What does success look like for you and your work?
Happy people living great lives and being inspired to help others be happy and live good lives – in a nutshell. On a micro level success is every time you make someone smile and feel better about their future, that good life focus can sometimes help people rediscover hope for a positive future which they have lost. Also, on a macro level, making significant changes to the system that have wider positive impacts, for example, supporting housing services to adapt their policies and processes to become more person centred and strength based will help thousands of people have a better experience of these services. This work has benefited hugely from looking at people’s stories and experiences in detail to learn what can be done differently and more importantly why it should be done differently.
How has coronavirus affected your beneficiaries?
This is such a big question – I think the short answer is ‘in every way imaginable’. The global pandemic has turned things upside down in so many ways and people have had to adapt to a completely different way of life, including me and the team. This has looked very different for different people however, and highlighted and exacerbated existing inequalities. I would say that some of the people who have been hit hardest have been single people living in blocks of flats where loneliness and isolation has been hard to manage alongside tolerance of antisocial behaviour from neighbours, which has been at an all time low. Fractures have appeared in communities where some have been shielding and others have been showing complete disregard of the lockdown rules or are in denial of what is happening. The impact on mental health and wellbeing has been huge too – with existing conditions exacerbated and some people experiencing anxiety or low mood for the first time. The financial implications for those furloughed or who have lost their jobs have been very difficult. Trying to think of some positives or silver linings…I think a lot of people have developed new connections to their neighbours and communities, especially during the beginning of lockdown in March-April when there was such a reaction of good will and commitment to make sure no-one was lost or forgotten.
What does 2021 look like?
It has got to be better hasn’t it? Trust strength based practitioners to bring their rose tinted glasses to this question! It seems like we are heading back to normality in a lot of ways if things go as planned with the vaccine – so this will be a big relief for many people. However, I think we will all go forward with some important learning and wisdom from 2020, even if that is just realising what is really important to us. We have learnt a lot about human nature, the importance of kindness, what can be done quickly in a crisis and how much bureaucracy and other system barriers hold us back. There seems to be a lot of appetite for radical change so I am readying myself for a new social revolution and hopefully a shift to a compassionate community paradigm, away from our current capitalist market paradigm!
What do you love about York and what would you change?
I love York in many ways as a city which I have lived in most of my life which has some great memories and history for me as well as being a city with deep history and culture generally. It is a beautiful city and always great to come home to after travelling, though not much of that is happening at present. However, I think the people I know and the relationships I have here are what really make it home for me. There is great energy for change and passion for human rights which seems embedded in York and comes from many places, including the two Universities which bring new people in to the city every year to learn and grow, and stay, in a lot of cases. There is a lot I would change in terms of the way different services work together, or don’t as the case may be, I would love to see silos and competitiveness driven by funding eradicated, this drives ugly behaviour which doesn’t help anyone and can be damaging for innovation. However, overall, there are much worse places to be and as a born Southerner I am proud to say I am from York!
And finally, how can people contact you?
As we’re based all over the city, the best initial point of contact would be our website, where you can find your local co-ordinator and their contact details – Local Area Coordinators – City of York Council