Tell the story

December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 5:24 pm

Happy Christmas to all my readers. Here’s a brief message from my sponsors.


December 21, 2009

Supporting vulnerable adults

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 1:39 pm

A few posts back I talked about a friend of mine called “two soups” who died broke, broken and alone from alcohol-related causes. He passed away in his flat and was not found for some months. It was a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided if there had been more help and engagement in the community.

The truth is that often the most vulnerable people – the old, those with mental health problems, people with disabilities – have no one to turn to when help is needed most.

In my last blog, I talked about visiting a workshop in Shropshire dedicated to telling people about the CAF (or common assessment framework). It sounds like jargon and, of course, it is. But the CAF projects now being rolled out across pilot sites in England could make a huge difference to the lives of the most vulnerable members of society.

In short, CAF equals joining all services in the community, so they can unite and act together to help people. I’m starting to repeat myself, so I’ll let OLM’s Simon Powlson tell you why it’s an important step in the right direction for community services.

December 19, 2009

So what’s a CAF?

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 12:31 pm

Church Stretton, Shropshire.

Last week I drove to this isolated little town on the Welsh marches to see a workshop performed by people with learning disabilities. The idea was for the group to tell anyone who’s prepared to listen that they have a voice and they want to be heard.

The performance is part of an initiative by Shropshire County Council to  explain to parents,  carers and service users (that’s people who use services) about a project the council  is piloting called the common assessment framework, or CAF.

So what is CAF and should we care?

This is a programme being rolled out by the Department of Health (DH) that has life-changing implications for every one us; it’s about how cared-for  people will be cared for in the future. It’s about how you want to  live your life when you’re older or if you have a disability. Important stuff.

So over the next few blogs I’m going to run a few videos of the day to try to explain what CAF is and why it’s so important. 

Firstly, here’s Jamie Cross  from the DH explaining about the CAF in general and the pilot in Shropshire.

December 10, 2009

Social media cafes

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 3:50 pm

Back in the days when online meant that my flatmates had yet again pegged my unwashed smalls amongst the neighbour’s drying tea towels as a jolly jape, I wrote the odd piece for John Bird, of Big Issue fame.

Actually it was pre-Big Issue because John told me he was setting up a magazine for the homeless and would I write a few articles on subculture movements in London for the dummy issue… for nothing!

Ever eager to see my name in print, I accepted the job and trawled the South London underworld of squats, art cafes and exhibitions in search of subversive artist types. I remember one collective called Aunt Flo’s, which was a situationist art movement based in a large, sprawling squat in Deptford.

The artists would gather over coffee and spliff to plan various art events and exhibitions, with the wild and touchingly naive idea that communities could change for the better through situationist art.

20 years later and an updated model of those idealistic debating clubs is the social media cafe. This is where like-minded (often techie) souls meet to talk about making connections in the physical and virtual community through online participation and action.

So you can go along and chat about anything from open source software as the perfect blogging tool to setting up your own democratic movement through online social networks. Whatever takes your fancy.

These new overground warriors (the Tuttle club is held in the LEON cafe in Spitalfields) dress a lot more like your average high street citizen than the grubby artists of Aunt Flo’s, but they dream the same dream – to get people from all walks of life talking and engaging, to make people socially (and, yes, politically) active.

Interesting stuff. Personally, I’d like them to go one step further and become the hubs for local video blogging networks. People around the community turning up to comment about their lives, their aspirations on simple Flip cameras or phones, then uploading onto a common council-run space. This could then feed into local adult services engagement sites. Local government would be plugged directly into the community.

Sounds chaotic – and, of course, it would be. All the ideas happening around social media are naturally chaotic, but out of that chaos a local council could start to understand and engage with its community.

Below are a couple of links to social media cafes in London and Manchester and the video link is short chat with Lloyd Davis, founder of the Tuttle Club.

<a href=””>

December 7, 2009

Grow your own

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 12:50 pm

Ever grown vegetables?

It was only when I bought a house with a rather large garden that I thought of creating an allotment on the waste ground at the end below an old chestnut tree.

I’ve never been a “Good Life” kind of person, used to buying all my fruit and veg in some large supermarket. So this year I gave it a go. And it really worked! Growing and cooking your own spuds does really give you sense of well being. The harvesting is genuinely exciting and the whole family got stuck in. The texture of the skin is finer and they taste incredibly light. The same goes for onions, carrots, shallots and a host of other root veg that I planted this year.

The reason I say all this is because communities around the country are doing similar projects to help people with disabilities and mental health conditions build up or rebuild their lives.

At this point I’ll stop and simply let Rory Mescall, a member of the CASU allotment project in Stockport, tell you his story.

December 4, 2009

Let’s make a movie

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 10:43 am

Ever thought much about Stockport? Me neither till a year-odd ago. So here are some facts that might be helpful if you’re in a pub quiz – or wandering around Stockport.

* Stockport is in Greater Manchester.
* Stockport was completely destroyed during William the Conqueror’s Harrying of the North.
* Stockport was the centre of the world’s hatting industry and exported 6 million hats a year in Victorian times.
* Stockport’s Victorian viaduct is the world’s biggest.
* 10CC and the Stone Roses recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport.
* BBC TV series Life on Mars was filmed inside and on top of the Stockport council building.
* And finally (and the point of my Stockport post), Stockport is also doing Britain’s first council community engagement site.

“Rubbish, they’re all at it,” I hear you say. Not true.

A lot of public and private organisations are setting up websites, local community social network sites and the like. But if you look closely they’re mostly on the 2 dimensional, build-it-and-watch-them-come model.

Most work on the facebook-style approach where people set up their profiles and then join online groups. Great if you’re an online groupie-type of person, but most people aren’t. They’re too busy, apathetic, unsure about the technology, watching TV etc.

Stockport’s approach is a simple one; don’t write, use video blogs and tell people what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, how your life is. This becomes an all inclusive network, with no hierarchy, managed by Stockport council and sealed for security.

It’s also proactive, meaning that all registered users are sent emails each week to invite them to watch the latest blogs. Simple. Effective. The system is operated out of the CareKnowledge social care information portal.

I suppose you could call this a bit of shameless self promotion; I’m editorial director at CareKnowledge. But I reckon that if you’ve started something genuinely groundbreaking you may as well blow your own trumpet. I also believe that this type of network could bring about genuine change for staff and communities; seriously improve the lives of many people who are isolated, old, suffering from mental health conditions, have disabilities of some kind.

Here’s Rob Powell, of Stockport council, and Natasha Howells, who works for a social enterprise called Pure Innovations, talking about the programme.

December 2, 2009

Get your village talking

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 11:49 am

Ever think about your local parish council? Bear with me on this one.

Recently, a couple of parish councillors knocked on my door claiming people were complaining at a private sign I’d put up on my fence (I co-own the lane outside and have to maintain it).

I then received a letter threatening action “from a higher authority”. As the lane leads to a church, I could only assume the higher authority in question was a lawyer or God, or both. Ironically, I hadn’t even put the sign up; it had always been there, covered in ivy. I just cut the ivy back. God!

The councillors grudgingly apologised; God forgave my over-eager hedge pruning; life goes on.

Everyone knows that parish councils consist of landowners, business folk, patrician families or self interested individuals.

I was a parish councillor once; it’s not a barrel of laughs. Meetings drone on for hours; minutes are written up weeks later by a hard-pressed clerk; are seldom read by the public who then moan when a high-tech abattoir appears at the end of their gardens.

“IT WAS IN THE MINUTES!”, councillors scream when pressed on this sudden, visible instrusion.

Amazingly, decisions by parish councils play a huge role in shaping local communities; from planning and hedge clearing to helping older people and disabled individuals with courtesy buses and day centre activities.

So just imagine if after each parish council meeting, the clerk spoke into a video blog and told the public in a nutshell what had happened at the meeting. Told you in a nutshell the most important parts of the minutes. How decisions made at that meeting would affect you.

The blog could be shown in the local library; mobile library; day centre.

This in not some earnest plea for democracy; people can take it or leave it. But at least the methods of communications would be clear to everyone – self interested or disinterested.

I think it could herald a little social revolution that would engage and galvernise Britain’s communities, big and small. Just imagine that! God!

December 1, 2009

“Two soups”; a life cut short

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 4:19 pm

I once had a good friend I nicknamed “two soups”. He had a cutting, caustic wit, loved Italy, hated Stockwell (where he lived), and always ordered two soups at the local deli (one was never enough). Then last year he died broke, broken and alone.

I hadn’t seen him for awhile, but heard he’d lost his job and started drinking heavily. It wasn’t clear how he’d died, but alcohol was clearly the cause. He wasn’t found for a month; no one had called, no one missed him. He had no parents and only a distant brother, who was called in to organise the funeral.

It’s a terribly sad tale and almost certainly the first time anyone has told it. But it’s stories like this that make people sit up and listen; if you’ve got a story to tell, people will want to hear, will want to help, will want to make a difference – hopefully.

A year on. I was at a social services conference last week where directors of various local councils droned on and on, backed by text heavy powerpoints, about how it was time to really engage with and help services users (that’s me, you and people), particularly with mental health issues. The audience sat all day, heads bowed; somnolent, silent. It was well meaning, expensive to run and forgettable.

In the evening I asked other people attending to give their verdict on the speeches; most admitted they’d forgotten what had been said.

Some said it was a waste of time and they wouldn’t be attending again. These are directors of public services remember.

Unbelievably, this was an event geared towards helping communities, helping older people, disabled people, people with drug and alcolohol problems. It was paid for by the public, was set up in the interests of the public and yet nothing was gained. Why?

Because people were not talked about. And there’s the rub. We have to talk about people; their lives and their problems to engage the audience that will help those people; will help my friend “two soups”, whose real name was Neal, who loved Italy, but hated Stockwell.

It’s not the council directors who are entirely at fault, it’s the time-worn means by which the message is (mis)communicated. Below is a link to a site where well meaning people talk about the need for more community engagement. It looks marginally more engaging and relevant than my conference last week. I wonder what they took away from such a day.

Create a free website or blog at