The question “what does your good life look like?” is the starting point for Local Area Coordination. Almost 30 years ago Local Area Coordination proposed a radical change to the way support and services in Western Australia were delivered alongside local people and communities, and which continues to drive national service and funding reform across Australia today.
This question changes the conversation, moving the focus from people waiting for ever-decreasing services, to a discussion of what helps people to stay strong, in control, and valued within their local communities.
Local Area Coordination is growing in England and Wales, building on the values and core components of the international developments. There are currently 12 active areas. They have maintained the principles but translated this to local circumstances, responding to the particular policy and legal framework as well as the ways communities and civil society have grown up.
How Local Area Coordination works
Local Area Coordinators work in a defined community – small enough to be known and know local people, groups and businesses
They walk alongside any community members who want to connect or take practical steps to make a change in their lives. We know many of those people are older people but as Adam from the Isle of Wight team said recently he is currently working with “people aged from 3 – 92”
Coordinators take time to listen, find out what’s important to each person, understand and celebrate their strengths and aspirations and think, together, how to take practical steps to make it happen. That may include a range of actions including traditional care services but often services are not people’s 1st priority for action.
The Derby team’s slogan is “Get a life not a service”
Most importantly, Local Area Coordination is about assisting people to build their own resilience, confidence and connections and to be valued for their strengths and contribution.
The recent evaluation of the work of the Swansea and Neath Port Talbot teams demonstrates the strength of the networks created by connecting people in the communities they work in.
So what is different?
Flexible Local Area Coordination seeks to work outside of many of our existing constraints but still be accountable and safe. There are no service criteria or referrals only people being introduced to the Coordinator. People have the depth and length of relationship with a Coordinator that makes sense to them not any service priorities.
Multi-faceted Local Area Coordination practice brings together the best of all our international learning on strengths and rights-based approaches, person centred thinking and place based community work in one role.
Place based The team itself seeks to contribute to the local community being strong by helping people connect as well as the Coordinator’s work strengthening networks and groups
Connected Strategically, operationally and in the community all the work is based on strong partnership working.
Relationship focused Coordinators take time to get to know people and are always working to help people build the relationships that make sense to them. Coordinators do not want to be central to people’s lives but there is no time limit on how long they walk alongside someone.
Acts on capacity and strengths Local Area Coordinators do not seek to ‘fix’ people or situations but to help them build on what matters and achieve what they want to with others where that’s possible.
Practical The action taken together is always aiming to find the sustainable solutions people want for their vision of a good life.
An example: One person and her community
A GP introduces an isolated woman (who is in her 80s) who had become further isolated following the closure of a local bus service, resulting in increasing GP visits.
The Local Area Coordinator introduces her to local people and opportunities in her community and helps her to negotiate with a local group to expand the use of their community bus.
Her and her friends are re connected, as well as building new connections and relationships. She is now also part of the local community group.
Following a heart attack and subsequent hospital admission, she is supported to return home more quickly, safely and sustainably through the support of her friends and Local Area Coordinator.
The Local Area Coordinator introduces the community group to people with skills at bid writing – they are successful and receive a grant for a new community bus. The group stay connected to the running of the bus and each other.
How do we know it works?
There have been many national and international studies of Local Area Coordination, including 6 recent evaluations in England and Wales.
These have shown consistently that people value having someone who is easy to access in their local community, who will take time to listen, and who assists them to
- think about and build a positive plan for the future
- access information that supports decisions
- not rely upon services to meet their needs, or to need services less
- connect with others in the community who can also help or who have shared interests and passions
- build and maintain personal networks and friendship
- access, choose and control services if needed
The newly expanded Leicestershire and Derbyshire teams are demonstrating that these ways of working make as much sense in rural areas whilst the programme in Thurrock has expanded to a team of 14 Coordinators working across the Local Authority after four years of positive outcomes with people and impact on system pressures.
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