Recently I undertook some mapping work for the NHS. I was mapping some of the charities, community groups and social activities in South Kerrier (roughly speaking the geographical area covering Helston and the Lizard). I was also trying to identify 'community connectors' - more of this later. The reason for doing this piece of work was to kick start a wider mapping exercise in the area, which will ultimately populate a website/database that health care professionals have access to, enabling social prescribing.
Across Cornwall there are thousands of charity and community groups (check out Do-It to find volunteering opportunities with some of them!) and mapping them in any area is quite a challenge! Firstly where do you look, how do you find them all? The reality is you don't find them all because there is so much to find and once you think you've found the majority, things change - contact details change, groups come and groups go and things roll on! Hence you only really map a snapshot of what is happening at a particular moment in time and you have to commit to ongoing updating. Nonetheless the snapshot is a useful starting point for social prescribing, but what happens next.
Different people get different things out of volunteering, for some it can help build confidence and lead to new friendships, for others it can be a route to gaining new skills and employment, just see Tony's story. In much the same way social prescribing can reconnect people with others or re-engage people in a hobby or interest, boosting wellbeing and who knows what may flow on from this, hence having a map of options to point people to is a useful tool but it is just the start of the process. Not everyone is a self starter, and arguably those receiving a social prescription may need a little more support than others as it isn't always easy making that first call or walking into that new place for the first time. Consequently people often need a helping hand to carry them forward. Via projects like VIVA and Living Well to Work we provide 1:1 support to help people make those first steps.
So, if people connect people to support why don't we use our human networks to discover what is going on in our communities. In every town and village there are individuals & organisations that are so well connected they can tell you a huge amount about what is happening. Developing human connections also develops capacity, with new ideas and motivation emerging. Therefore we need to understand those agents/community connectors that have a central position in our neighbourhoods and villages and then we keep it live through the interactions of people, it is the members of our communities that make the long-term difference. Therefore instead of connecting people to databases lets connect people to people and develop those lasting solutions together.