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I feel the need to share this, particularly given that one of the ambitions of my organisation is to invest in more resilient and trusting communities who can do more for themselves. I’ll admit that I sometimes feel conflicted by this ambition, partly because I have to hope that it is a recognition that lots of this sort of stuff already happens, and that it is our role as a public sector to foster this and find our own way of interacting with community action.
Anyway, recently I was visiting my GoodGym coach (an older lady) and she told me an interesting story about a chap across the road from her, turning 90 this year, who is having some trouble. As well as a long battle with alcoholism, my coach is worried that he might be developing some form of dementia as he has stopped recognising people and is often forgetful about what he is doing, such as attending a doctors appointment. This in and of itself is very sad, but I found the dynamics around this chap very interesting.
Firstly, it was my “housebound” coach who noticed this deterioration from her window, phoned up her neighbour and her local GP to arrange an original appointment. The receptionist at the surgery kept in contact with my coach and shared concerns encouraging her to keep an eye out for her neighbour. My coach called up taxi firms on behalf of her neighbour and together, as a network, they’ve been helping this poor guy. Communities looking out for each other! Great story right? The neighbour missed his last appointment because the taxi didn’t show up. His response was to verbally abuse the GP receptionist who in turn has lost motivation to look out for him. Even my coach has had someone close to her ask “why do you bother with him? You shouldn’t.” Unfortunately I suspect the neighbour has very little awareness of what he is saying to
This made me sad, and unearthed something that we rarely talk about in public sector circles about community resilience – it is tough. Sometimes physically, more often than not though emotionally. As a first response to a neighbourhood challenge, communities are fantastic and it warms my heart that this person even has a local support network around him. But I worry about the transition between community support and public sector support – will this guy be picked up? How would we even know about
this going on at the moment? I only know because of my volunteering and honestly I’m not terribly sure what to do with this information, or even if I should do something with this information.
We talk about hidden problems in our society, but the hidden networks of help are just as important to uncover and build relationships with. I’m still struggling with my thoughts on this and welcome any advice if you have any.
Alexander Kenmure has worked in local government for years and is an active volunteer with GoodGym. You can read more about community resilience on his blog Not for Self but for All.