The challenge for Herefordshire Council was how to support the Leominster community in developing responses for people engaged with adult social care and with families on the edge of crisis, focusing particularly on the impact for children. Design-led thinking was used to develop and implement the project.
Herefordshire Council’s challenge is to bring communities together to help to understand and overcome local challenges that impact on people. This includes tackling social isolation and supporting personal and family development and independence.
In the short term, the council wants to build on existing community capabilities and optimise a selection of community activities that families can access to improve family life for children. This will, in turn, increase their opportunities and engagement in education. This project provides the council with an opportunity to take a new approach to meeting its vision: to work in partnership to protect children and giving them a great start in life.
Long term, Herefordshire wants to connect children and their families more effectively into their communities; grow strong resilient communities that self-manage and reduce need for specialist intervention.
Engagement and action
As part of the Design in the Public Sector Programme, the council decided to establish an ongoing relationship with residents, including a special focus on one particular estate to make sure the project has the greatest impact where it is most needed. This particular estate within Leominster was chosen by the council due to it being within the lowest 10 per cent of areas in the country for access to housing and services. It also has very low rates for education outcomes, skills, training and income, according to national data.
In 2016 we established our Community Connectors team who have undertaken significant engagement with residents of all ages in Leominster to understand their perspective on the town and its impact on their lives.
Based upon the tools provided in the programme the team were able to gain further insight into these communities through ethnographic research including observation and face-to-face interviewing. The Double Diamond approach supported us to plan a more in depth and structured approach to understanding the identified problem, putting greater emphasis on direct engagement with residents. As a result Jos, from the Community Connectors team, spoke to adults and children in the environments where they live including the local park, on the streets, in their gardens and with families at the local youth group. Informal user interviews have been held with over 100 citizens in addition to conversations with approximately 50 parents and children at schools as they were closing or as part of wider engagement activities around the town. The team have also engaged with citizens by attending a range of community meetings.
Time was also spent with young mothers on the Healthy Lifestyles programme and in October, four in-depth conversations were held with families who have been through crisis in recent times and are currently supported by Herefordshire Council’s Family Support Service.
This engagement reinforced some of the perceptions identified within the broader engagement activities:
- parents feel there is very little for them to do socially in Leominster and transport to Hereford (without a car) is not possible during the evening and prohibitively expensive during the day;
- opportunities for children and teenagers are limited. There are few places for children and teenagers to go and few activities for them to do. Park equipment is ill-maintained and parks are dirty (including complaints of needles and broken glass) and in some places use is dominated by a small number of families and others feel that they cannot use it.
- these issues cause parents to feel isolated and unable to meet their own needs.
Initial data analysis and engagement with professionals working with children and families also provided further context for the discovery of the specific needs of the population of Leominster largely through data analysis and engagement with professionals working with children and families in the area. Themes emerging from this early engagement were:
- parental mental health issues are preventing opportunities for children to thrive
- lack of access to high-quality nursery places
- parents in receipt of low incomes and potentially subject to debt, are more at risk of disconnection from essential utilities and inability to access universal opportunities (e.g. leisure, educational)
The council learned that family crisis is often experienced where children exhibit developmental, health and mental health issues and/or have low levels of school attendance. These findings informed the focus and shape of our further engagement with families.
The detailed findings of the engagement were presented to focus groups which included parents, representatives from statutory services (including local policing and schools), local businesses and community organisations to discuss and further define the needs of families in Leominster.
The area has good local schools which provide opportunities and support for children during school hours and some opportunities outside these hours for those children able to access them. However, a number of families and children – especially from the target estate for the project – identified that they were unable to access after-school activities because they live too far away from the school and there are not adequate crossings on a busy road en route to the school.
With these findings in mind, the focus groups agreed that work within the community should be concentrated on providing opportunities for parents, especially those who do not work, to socialise and build self-confidence and self-belief to support them into work or personal development.
In addition, the Connecting Communities Team will facilitate further work with the community and other departments within the council to oversee work to improve facilities for families in the estate and improve access for children to after-school activities. This could potentially include community groups providing transport home from after school clubs, while the council is reviewing opportunities to provide safe road crossing points.
The focus groups then explored how the community could be involved in designing a solution to parental isolation. It was agreed that a range of daytime, and potentially evening activities could be established which would be designed to:
- be attractive to parents in Leominster who feel isolated
- provide socialising opportunities with other parents and other members of the community
- promote positive time together as families
- develop self-confidence, skills and self-belief.
A pilot Cook and Dine club is being established to launch in 2017, where parents will work with a professional chef to cook a meal while their children are at school. They will then go and pick their child up from school and go back to the Centre to eat and play together as a family. For this pilot, schools will identify families who could benefit from such activities and they will be invited to attend a time-limited activity.
Subject to the success of this pilot, other activities will become available with open access to all parents. A workshop with families is scheduled for February to explore other activities and concepts that can gradually begin to bring families together more and be self-supporting.