Michael McEwan speaks to Gerry Tougher, Public Engagement Officer at East Renfrewshire Council about Talking Points, a new approach to providing information and support to people in their local communities.
MM - Michael McEwan
GT - Gerry Tougher
MM So, on this next episode for Iriss.fm I went along to East Renfrewshire to hear about a new piece of work called Talking Points and I spoke to Gerry Tougher. Now, Gerry Tougher is a public Engagement Officer of East Renfrewshire. So, can you tell us what is Talking Points?
GT Talking Points really is a new approach that we're taking in East Renfrewshire, essentially Talking Points are places in your community where you can the advice and support you need to help you to do the things you want. A lot of it is to try and keep people of systems that they don't need to be in, social work systems, duty systems, waiting lists, and a lot of it is about prevention and making information available to you and where you live in your local community that you can pop along if you've got any questions about health and social care services and wider than that in terms of what might be available in your local community, you know if there's things to do, if there's groups that you maybe weren't aware of, if there's something new you'd like to try even so, it's just a way of providing that to people and it's maybe like a first step or a first step approach to providing information. It might well be there's somebody comes to a Talking Point and it's evident that they need far more or they're maybe at a crisis point or you know a Talking Point is not really appropriate then that's still a point where that person can then have a fuller conversation and actual assessment you know we can make an appointment to see the person maybe the following week or whatever where we can, if it looks as if the person's requiring actual services so, Talking Point is just a new way to provide information. It's something that started down South, there was a couple of local authority areas that piloted this approach, probably getting on for like 2 or 3 years ago now through an organisation called NDTI, which is the National Development Team for Inclusion, they are kind of a not for profit organisation that really work to include the voices of disabled people in services and just try and make services more accessible. So, there was a couple of local authority areas, Shropshire was the main one that kind of looked at this approach and how they could work differently basically and that's grown: a lot of local authorities/areas down south have taken it on. East Renfrewshire was the first one in Scotland to look at this and say, "Is this an approach that we could try?" and now there's other local authority areas like Fife, The Borders, South Ayrshire are all kind of taking it on as well and every local authority is doing it slightly differently. There's not a kind of one approach to this, you know it depends on the local authority make up and how they would like to do it so the aim is the same, it's to help people at an earlier you know as early as possible but mainly to keep folk out of the systems that they don't need to be in.
MM So, before it came to East Renfrewshire, did you hear about Talking Points before?
GT Well I think some senior staff here had become aware of it and had went down to visit some sites in England, I think they actually went down to Shropshire to see how it was working in action, you know just to get some learning from it and see if this was an approach that we maybe could take on up here. And that was not just HSCP staff that was like carer centre staff and kind of partner organisations because this isn't something that the HSPC wants to do alone and it's involved likes of the carer centre, voluntary action, and the self directed support forum from the beginning and sharing this and working across partner organisations and that's something that will probably get wider as time goes on as well and involve other 3rd sector organisations so it was bits and bobs of fact finding and going down to see if this was something that we could be doing here and then sort of deciding, "Look, let's try this." And I mean there is an element, an undeniable element about budgets and money, you know like across the board with everything, you'll see that across all NHS services, doing the same thing isn't an option, you know going forward in terms of demographics and how things are going to be in the next few years that we need to look at modernising everything you know all our approaches to working and basing them much more in the community where possible. So, it kind of works in as part of that as well so, that was really how it basically got off the ground in East Renfrewshire, was to try this. Initially it was to do some kind of engagement around that but at the beginning it was to try and do some engagement without having something concrete to save cos there wasn't a model yet but it was trying to get kind of some early stuff done in terms of getting peoples thoughts on how this might operate and we had a series of events in East Ren, kind of Redhurst Hotel and kind of Dalmeny ... and they were pretty well attended. And it started off in East Renfrewshire where we had a kind of steering group to see how this might evolve and we had members of the public on that and we had folk from libraries, you know voluntary action carers and trying to see how this might look in East Renfrewshire but we were basing it on something completely new.
MM So, you've been going for a few years ...
MM ... what's the feedback been like?
GT Well what's happened is last year we did some, I suppose, pilot work you know where did a couple of Talking Points in different areas of East Ren and we were kind of linking that in with groups that were already meeting in those venues, just for an example, in Busby in the Duff Hall and we linked in with Memory Lane. There's a group that meets in there weekly and you get upwards of maybe 30 folk going there and we thought we could go along and just be ... not take over the groups activity but just be there and if anybody had any questions around you know health or social care services then we were there but not taking over what the group was already doing but just being and linking in with the group. And we did that in 2 or 3 different areas in East Ren and that worked really well, we got folk coming up to us with questions and when we were doing those we had a social worker there, we had an OT there, we had somebody from carers centre there and we had somebody from Voluntary Action there so there was people who could answer questions you know on the day there and then and that worked really well and we got a few referrals from that and some good pieces of work came out of that and a lot of the stuff that we were finding in early days was just around social isolation I think really generally where people were maybe living in communities that just weren't aware of what was going on and were looking for things to get involved in so, that was really quite useful but a lot of it in those early days was just maybe signposting on to other things that was already there but there were other cases where there might be an actual assessment and it might have evolved something around the SDS so, you know further appointments might be made for a social worker and somebody from the forum, SDS forum to sit in and have a proper conversation with the person and look to see if there was any supports that could be in and things like that so we did a fair bit of that and then it was really just to see how it was working and what we could learn from it but it was small pieces of work, at that stage it was only kind of 3 or 4 of us just doing it as a bit of an add on to our job but we were just kind of seeing how this might develop but then it clearly it looked like we would have to do a lot of work internally in terms of business support in our systems if we were going to take this forward properly what would need to be different internally. So, over the last year there's been a lot of work going on with our business support staff, you know previously if somebody had phoned our single point of access number, you know they would have a conversation and the person might have a script that they might work through and asking various questions, that might lead to then coming into the duty system and you know and a lot of the times that might not have been necessary really you know what the call was about or what the conversation was about so, a lot of our support staff have undergone training in terms of good conversations, effective conversations and are really keen to be much more pro-active about having a more defined role if somebody phones so, even if they can then signpost on and they've had a lot of ... we've had these kind of meet the partners events where business support staff have met Carers Centre staff and SDS forum staff or RAMH or whoever and get a much clearer idea of what they do. That's been really useful so, they feel a wee bit more, they can pass on, they can signpost with a bit more certainty about what that organisation will offer. That's been really useful and there's been a lot of kind of work going on in developing new paperwork for Talking Points that is minimal you know previously if you were maybe getting an assessment for services, you're talking about like 30 page documents kind of wading through, we've been trying to make any paperwork that we might need minimal, useful but one page, one/2 pages. So, there's been also work going on in the background to get internally us more ready for them looking more at community now so, I suppose in a sense we went away, done a wee bit of work, came back went, "That works well, that didn't really work too well. You know what's the learning from that? What do we need internally and we're now at the stage really where a lot of that's been worked out and we're good to go and it's now, "Right okay, let's (... unclear) of these community ones now."
So, we're at the stage now where we've identified kind of 5 areas in East Renfrewshire where we had done previous work and we'd linked in with some previous groups. We've just recently developed this basic questionnaire, it's only got 2 questions on it you know, "If we were doing a Talking Point in your area, where would be a good venue, what would be a good time and who would you like to be able to speak to at a Talking Point?" it's all very well for us to say, "Well we could have a Talking Point and we could have X, Y and Z." that's us making that decision really in terms of who somebody might want to speak to so, it's useful to get that wider view in terms of who it might be useful for us to kind of partner up with and coming along and doing Talking Points so we've just recently put those questionnaires out, we've got about 100 or so back so far. So, we're trying to get over the message about what Talking Points is and just get that ... and we've had some really good feedback about that so, what we're going to try and do now is, we've still got a lot more to get back in but we'll look at that then and hopefully that will inform how we take Talking Points forward. It's not to say that we can promise to do what anybody's asked in the questionnaire but it will inform certainly venues if you know the 5 areas, the initial areas that we've identified are Thornliebank, Newton Mearns, Barrhead, Busby and Eaglesham so, if we're getting questionnaires back from those areas and it's saying, "This is a good venue, that's not a very ... you know I wouldn't go there or ..." that's going to inform how we start and it's really just to get a starting point. The questionnaires were really just to give us something to go on to then say, "Right let's ... can we go out and start doing these now?" and seeing how they go but continuing to learn and to continue to get that feedback while we're doing them.
MM So, I take it that if somebody moves to East Renfrewshire from Glasgow and they don't know what services there in this area, because this area is so big, as you know. So, would they come to you, you would be the first port of call then?
GT I think really that's really what Talking Points is getting sold as, is this initial point of contact for people. Once we're up and running and we're better on and you know we've still got a lot to do in terms of our publicity and there's things going on with that now. We're trying to kind of develop 2 or 3 things all at the same time but once it's properly up and running that's how it will be seen in East Renfrewshire as, "Yeah, that's the initial point of contact." and anything that falls from that then you know if that's just ... take your example, somebody new coming into the area, if that's just initial signposting and saying, "Oh, did you know about such and such?" or, "You could try there or here's some useful information about such ..." you know and that might be enough but that person might be coming into there and saying, "Well you know my mums coming in with me and she's not been too well recently and she's maybe getting a bit forgetful." Or you know that could lead to more in depth or that might be them looking about services, then that would lead to a different conversation you know like a proper conversation that would look at that and then look to see how that person could be supported and whether as kind of social work services or other services in the community so it's a kind of tiered approach. What we're trying to do in these community Talking Points as well is build up what we're calling Community Chests and it's basically this kind of physical resource of information for that local area. And also running alongside that, get local people involved in doing that. What we're looking to do in the Talking Points is really involve the community so, if we're having Talking Points in these community areas that we're looking to get volunteers to help us to do it and that's something that we're pursuing just now. We've got 4 or 5 people who have identified and said they would like to get involved in that so, we're just looking at you know doing some volunteer ... what might be appropriate you know in terms of volunteer services and what protections they might need, you know just so we've got a kind of protocol for volunteers and that might be something that they take on to say, "Look I'll go out and I'll make sure this information is up to date and it's a physical resource, it's not ... if we've got these physical Community Chests and we've got information that's up to date, we can then pass that on to community, you know the council website to say,. "Well this needs updated." You know but it's mainly going to be like a physical resource rather than just directing folk to websites all the time and I think that's quite an important thing and it's going to be really good for us doing the Talking Points that we can say well we know what's on in the local area and we're up to date and we're accurate with it.
Talking Points isn't setting itself up as we've got all the answers right here, right now but we will have them, do you know what I mean? Or we might have in terms of if it's just signposting and stuff, it's just making that first link. You know rather than picking up the phone and phoning social work or coming into systems like before, it's just somebody having that first initial conversation and I think if you look at a lot of the plans and policies and strategies that are getting through in terms of the HSCP just now, it's quite clear that that will be the role of Talking Points. You know there's a Talking Points paper going to the next integration joint board meeting in August and that paper will be to bring the committee up to date with basically what I've been talking about up to now and what our plans are for moving forward so, it's quite clear that that is the approach and we will be the initial point of contact.
MM So, what's your role in all of that?
GT My role, that's a good question. My role initially was to come along to the steering group very early on, very early days when we were starting this and approaching. My role was not clearly defined then, and I don't think anybody's role was clearly defined but I was kind of getting brought on board because of the community engagement aspect of it and publicity, you know because I do you know information bulletins and so on so it was maybe coming on board with that in mind so, it would be getting involved in stuff around communication and publicity around planning a lot of that stuff and being involved in the Talking Points on the day if we were ... that's something going forward that we'll need to get clearer on as we forward plan, you know if we're setting up Talking Points, community Talking Points in different areas and saying, "You know the first Tuesday of the month it will be here in Busby." And that kind of information that we're properly planning and who's able to go to those and if we're planning in terms of our community ones and we're also making ourselves available to go to events that other organisations are ... as you know that can be kind of peaks and troughs so, might not be a lot and then all of a sudden there's 2 or 3 that are wanting you to come so, it's about making sure that we can resource all of that. One of the things that we're also ... we're going to be having 2 fixed Talking Points as well, they will just be Talking Points, fixed Talking Points. Voluntary Action now is open to 9 o'clock as you'll probably know, Monday to Friday and it's done a lot of work and it's you know it's set itself up completely differently in terms of how it's laid out inside the kind of market place idea and Voluntary Action staff have had training very recently on kind of good conversations so, in the very near future we will start to be advertising Voluntary Action as a fixed Talking Point, that somebody can pop into at any time and have that initial ... as if they were going to a Talking Point in a community venue and have that initial conversation with somebody whose specifically, one of their specific roles is to do that within Voluntary Action so, can do that and if that's looking at the kind of social supports or signposting, great if that involves a bit more where it might involve some social work input then that member of staff will be able to make an appointment for a social worker to come up and meet with that person in Voluntary Action, you know so, a lot more joint working. We could see in the future, some staff just basing themselves in Voluntary Action because we're all agile and you know most of and we can work anywhere so, I think there could be a lot more staff moving about different ... you know carers, staff sitting in Voluntary Action vice versa and just working together much more closely and just being there so if somebody pops in, you could just be doing your normal work but if somebody does pop in and there's a carers issue, there's somebody from carers there so, I think that will all develop and Talking Points will only work if the community really get involved in it, you know and it's just not seen as something else that an organisation's doing, I think it has to be doing with and really transparently involving people.
MM Okay, thanks Gerry.
GT No worries.