A year of social innovation in Surrey

Rhea Newman from Surrey County Council interviews her colleagues on their experiences of working with our Fellows

Local Government is facing unprecedented challenges and at Surrey County Council we know we cannot just keep doing things the way we always have. At a time when demand for our services is increasing – but budgets are rapidly declining – we have to start thinking differently.

Over the last year Surrey County Council has worked, in various capacities, with 7 Year Here Fellows to look for ideas and innovations to support some of our most vulnerable residents.

I interviewed my colleagues Emily Pentland and Zoe de Haes about their experiences of working with Year Here Fellows.

 

Galvanising the community in Lower Green

Emily Pentland is a Programme Manager in the Children, Schools and Families department. She commissioned a consulting project from Year Here in Spring 2016. The project was led by three Fellows – Gwenno Edwards, Josh Falconer Roberts and Vicky Houghton Price.

 

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Residents of Lower Green at a community consultation event

Emily, what was the context of your project with Year Here?

Streets Apart is a trailblazing pilot to test out cross sector partnerships in one local area in Surrey. We’ve brought together a group of stakeholders committed to understanding and improving the experiences of children, young people and their families who experience deprivation, isolation, inequality or are disadvantaged in Elmbridge, Surrey.

Most people think of Elmbridge in Surrey as being a wealthy place but communities like Lower Green buck that trend. It’s a small area of deprivation set in an otherwise affluent area. Many members of the community have been involved in previous initiatives but often these initiatives have not been led by the community or resulted in lasting change.

Through working with Year Here Fellows we wanted to see positive change that was resident-led and could be sustained. We agreed early on to follow an asset-based approach where the focus was on what’s great about Lower Green and what could be built on. We felt that the best way forward would be to work with the community and not do things to the community and for residents to have opportunities to establish good relationships with stakeholders such as the local authority, voluntary and faith sectors and, where possible, private businesses.

What did the Fellows do?

The team of three Fellows approached all of the houses in Lower Green asking people what local facilities they use, their interests and their skills. They spent some time visiting local organisations – like the school, community centre, churches and the library. With this information they were able to see what assets already existed in the community and what could be developed to benefit a wider range of people.

Why was it important that the Fellows were so present in the community?

There’s no easy shortcut to community development. The first couple of weeks of the project were spent knocking on every door in the area, and taking the time to listen to everyone’s opinions. Sometimes this was fun but often the process was frustrating and slow. It took time to build relationships but the Fellows felt like they had established trust after a few weeks. After meeting people with many skills and local knowledge, the Fellows’ role simply became to connect the dots.

What did you discover?

Two main things stood out. First that the community centre, despite being a great space with bags of potential, was sadly very under used. Secondly, the Fellows found that there were a lot of mothers in the area who wanted to meet other mothers and have a space outside of home to socialise.

With this in mind, they organised a community barbecue where they presented back ideas about the future of the community centre. By gathering this information, the community centre committee had a clearer idea of which activities would be popular and financially sustainable.

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Some of the consultation methods used in Lower Green

With the information they’d gathered they were able to connect a group of local mothers who didn’t know each other, who started their own toddler group where the children could play and the mothers could socialise in the community centre’s cafe.

What did you gain from working with Year Here?

The time invested by the team was absolutely invaluable.

The relationships they built with residents led to a group attending a stakeholder meeting at the Elmbridge Civic Centre and sharing their aspirations for Lower Green. This might sound small but it was a real step forward in ensuring that local residents feel able to participate in the decisions that affect them. This was a testament to the Year Here team as relationships with residents need time and trust to develop.

 

Building emotional foundations for successful transitions to adulthood

Zoe de Haes is a Change Manager in the Shift Surrey innovation team, at Surrey County Council. Shift Surrey was launched in February 2013. It uses design, technology and change skills to tackle critical problems. As part of her role, she has been working closely with the Care Leavers’ Service, that hosted a Fellow, Elo Acland, for a frontline placement from September 2015.

Participants of Elo Acland's Finding Your Feet mentorship programme

Participants of Elo Acland’s Finding Your Feet mentorship programme

Zoe, why did you decide to work with Year Here?

Care leavers are far more likely to be NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) than other young people. At age 19 around 33% of care leavers are NEET, compared to the 15.9% figure attributed to all young people. We decided to work with Year Here to help us tackle this problem in Surrey. I had done a volunteering programme called City Year, so I knew how mutually beneficial it could be to both volunteers and the organisations they are placed within.

What did Elo do?

During her placement, Elo worked with 10 young people, providing support with CV-writing, college enrolment and confidence building. She quickly built trust, which was key to the young people making progress.

Elo recognised that for a lot of young people instability in their emotional wellbeing or more serious mental health issues could be a huge barrier to their progression. She created resources for the Personal Advisors who work in the Care Leavers’ Service including CV help, interview tips and personality tests and information about services that could help with wellbeing and mental health.

For her innovation project, Elo redesigned our mentoring service, based on feedback from young people. It was renamed Finding Your Feet, and Elo rewrote the training to include more material on self-esteem, goal setting, and overcoming emotional and practical barriers to work.

How did Elo find the experience?

After her frontline placement, Elo launched social enterprise Storeys with another Fellow. Storeys is a creative programme in personal development and emotional wellbeing for care leavers who are moving into their first independent housing placement.

“My experience at the Care Leavers’ Service taught me a huge amount. I had had experience working with young people before, but did not know much about the care system. I now want to continue working with young people who have been in care.”

Elo Acland, 2016 Fellow

What did you gain from working with Year Here?

Elo had a brilliant impact on the lives of the young people she worked with, through finding them education, employment and training, or through improving their confidence and wellbeing. During her placement, Personal Advisors could refer young people for one-to-one support they would not otherwise have received. She has left a legacy of resources and a redesigned mentoring programme.

We are in a better position to support young people than we would have been without Year Here. We are very proud of what Elo achieved, and wish her all the best with Storeys.