Last month, I spoke at Locality’s Keep it Local Network event in Newcastle. They asked me to describe how the services Meadow Well provides transform the lives of the people we work with. To do this, I came armed with stories of people who’ve come through our doors in recent years.
How we work
First, I’ll provide a bit more background on how we work. We are contracted by North Tyneside Council to provide alternative education provision and adult day care services. We deliver the latter through our joinery workshop, community gardens and IT suite. There is also a degree of flexibility in how we design services in response to need. For example, for our adult education service, we operate a partnership with Newcastle College to provide a DJ School.
In the current financial climate, it is important that we aren’t overly reliant on local authority contracts – so, we operate a mixed economy of earned income from room hire, training and grant-funded projects, alongside these contracted services. I think this means the commissioned services we deliver add up to more than the sum of their parts. The holistic, person-centred approach we take means that someone might contact us through one of our council-contracted services, and quickly realise the other services we offer are of use to them as well, or vice versa.
Universal Credit and perverse financial incentives
Sarah* recently lost her mum, for whom she had cared for almost 20 years. At the time, North Tyneside was rolling out Universal Credit for single claimants only. This meant Pauline was moved from her carer’s allowance to Universal Credit. The emotional and financial upheaval caused by these two events lead to Sarah first visiting Meadow Well Connected feeling suicidal. She had no digital skills, lacked confidence, was grieving her mother’s death and was facing eight weeks without any money.
We supported Sarah to make her Universal Credit claim and over several weeks and interventions we helped her receive a diagnosis of dyslexia and dyscalculia (a condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills). She transitioned to become a volunteer with us, helping others gain digital skills, took part in an art project, learned how to care for bees, got involved in the gardens and was able to work for us part-time for a while in the IT suite, until eventually securing full-time work.
Chris* had been coming into the Meadow Well Connected centre five days a week for several years to access adult day care in our gardens. We recognised this level of reliance on one institution wasn’t good for his personal development, so encouraged him, with the support of his family and carers, to think about accessing another service provider two days a week. He has now made this switch.
Due to the funding mechanism used for the services he accesses – paid for through his Personal Independence Payment – this meant us losing income. The perverse incentive this creates for other providers, whom we know may not refer their clients to other providers as a result of the financial hit, seems crazy to me. Our purpose dictates that we put the needs of our clients first. For larger organisations less rooted in local communities, I imagine their bottom line might come first.
*Names have been changed for anonymity
Meadow Well Connected will continue to provide services for the people we serve, and continue to use a mix of funding sources to support us to do this. Local government contracts will form part of this mix in the years to come, austerity-permitting.
Let’s encourage local authorities to recognise the unique value local community organisations provide through the services they deliver. They transform lives and put people first.
In North Tyneside, our local authority is increasingly good at doing this – recognising the power of collaboration with the local community sector. I hope Locality’s Keep it Local campaign can make this the case in places across the country.