Life in Devon 2020 – An Imagined Future
Looking back, 2013-2015 had been a difficult period for Devon County Council (DCC). The organisation faced a perfect storm of decreasing funding and rising demand, with cash projected to reach a critical low by 2018. As the organisation considered the changing nature of society, the need for a localised and flexible approach became clear. The new vision recognised the uniqueness of individuals, families and communities and saw the role of the authority as one that facilitated independence and wellbeing.
Although these are still austere times, there is a new and palpable sense of community. The neighbourhood has developed a network of support, using social media and face to face contact to put local people more closely in touch, stimulating volunteering and increasing involvement in local life. A Centre developed in a community-owned building offers easy access to services, activities and systems, staffed by local volunteers who act as “digital gurus”. DCC helped this development, technical staff having taken on new roles as community enablers.
Key to these changes has been Barbara, the locally appointed Neighbourhood Manager. Barbara has a rather special role, acting as a broker between various agencies and the village and managing a locality budget. She feels trusted and is free to help the neighbourhood develop a distinctive local identity. Some environmental works are managed to local specifications, offering employment to local people.
Ryan has benefitted hugely from this local innovation. As someone with learning disabilities, he had not previously felt included or able to make the most of his abilities. But he used his new flexible personal budget provided by DCC to procure training, which led to a job with the local environmental social enterprise established by Barbara. There is not much public funding available these days, but somehow it seems to go further, benefitting the local community in many different ways.
In the next street, Simon has decided to contact his mentor to suggest meeting over a coffee. Simon had been in trouble at school and approached a local retired volunteer after being inspired by her profile on his mobile app provided by DCC. Simon feels in control these days, a partner in addressing his own needs rather than simply an agency client. With this help, it looks like he will regain his balance before running into further problems which prompt professional intervention. Mentoring is one amongst many ways in which older people play a valuable role in the local community and economy.
An 81 year old widow, Mary is determined to live at home for as long as possible. A new face has joined her favourite interactive TV channel. This is a virtual friend which allows Mary to assess her own needs, monitors her behaviour and makes helpful suggestions about lifestyle and support. New technology has given Mary much greater confidence to remain living at home. However, her key worker Meg can be contacted if a more serious situation should arise. Over the last few years, Meg has been able to work flexibly and to spend a greater proportion of her day in quality time with clients.
DCC is very open and works closely with local people. Whilst it still manages strategic issues and commissions high risk services very effectively, the decisions taken in 2013 are bearing fruit, helping people to improve their own lives and enabling local communities to thrive.