The Brigstock Road community hub provides an accessible source of information and support for anyone from the local community, whether referred by health or other organisations, or walk-in appointments. It brings together statutory and voluntary bodies to offer face-to-face advice on anything from housing to mental health, but with a focus on helping people to help themselves and utilising community assets.
Key benefits and outcomes
- High satisfaction rates among users who appreciate the face-to-face support in their local area.
- Exchange of information and experiences among the groups attending.
What the organisation faced
Many people in the ethnically diverse and deprived area of Thornton Heath, South London, face issues such as poor or overcrowded housing, poverty and health problems. Getting access to the support they need is not always straightforward and can be complicated by language difficulties, not being able to access or use a computer, and not knowing who the right person is to contact. The hub aimed to bring services together and make them accessible in a convenient location.
What the organisation did
The One Croydon Alliance – of which the NHS South West London ICB is a part – is a partnership of health and care providers and commissioners in Croydon that work closely together to achieve place-based integration and reduce inequalities. The alliance recognised the need to bring services together and make them accessible in a convenient location.
The hub, run in partnership with Croydon Voluntary Action and the Asian Resource Centre Croydon (ARCC) in a hall already used by Age UK Croydon (and a familiar venue to the local population), was set up in 2022 and is open for three hours every Monday. During this time, anyone can attend and speak to advisers from a wide range of local organisations. These include both voluntary groups and statutory organisations. Around 80 per cent of the 30 organisations involved are voluntary sector ones.
There’s a focus on community assets – what strengths and resilience lie within the community itself – and empowering people to identify and then take the steps necessary to improve their lives, rather than expecting them to be solved by the statutory organisations. For example, the One Croydon Alliance has led a piece of work to raise funding for facilitators from ARCC. The funding has come through the Healthy Communities Together programme, supported by the National Lottery and The King’s Fund.
Many people who attend are referred by their GP social prescribing link worker, although around 10 per cent are people who have referred themselves. Housing is the single most common reason for attending. Many of the people who attend struggle with filling in complicated forms, such as to claim disability benefits or get a blue badge, and they are able to access help with these. Others are not familiar with some aspects of technology, such as uploading documents, or they don’t have access to a computer. Again, help is provided with these.
There are inevitably underlying issues that can’t be solved within the hub, such as those related to poverty, but the aim is that every person who attends should leave with help for the problem they came with, or signposted to appropriate services to receive ongoing support.
Many people who come along will have health issues, as the area has higher-than-average levels of people with diabetes, frailty and hypertension. There is opportunistic testing and health checks provided, as well as mental health support.
Results and benefits
Around 25-30 people are attending each session to get advice or support from the various groups represented.
In February 2023, 92 per cent of those attending said they would recommend the hub to others and the remaining eight per cent did not answer. Over 80 per cent said the problem they had come with had been resolved.
Staff and volunteers from the various groups attending are learning more about the work other groups do and how they can help, which means clients can be directed to additional help more easily.
There are costs involved for Age UK Croydon, which hosts the hub venue. These have increased over the winter due to higher heating costs and have only been partially offset by contributions. This is an issue and the initiative cannot be sustainable in its present state for long.
As the hub is partly staffed by volunteers, there have been points when it is not fully staffed and employees have had to step in while new volunteers are recruited. This can be costly for the organisation involved.
Language barriers can be an issue, with some of those seeking help not having English as a first language. In some cases, family members or volunteers from among the groups represented have translated but a more comprehensive solution is still needed.
As demand grows, opening hours may need to extend but this will involve greater commitment and resources from all organisations involved. This may be a strain for voluntary groups.
The hub is very much an additional service rather than one that can replace those provided by statutory organisations: building understanding of this has been important.
- Personal relationships matter and trust is built over time. It can help if the different organisations involved in staffing send along the same people each week, but this is not always possible.
- Having a venue which is already familiar can help boost attendance.
- When planning funding or finances, bear in mind that voluntary or third sector organisations often can’t afford to absorb even quite small additional costs.
For more information, contact Dawn Richardson, Healthy Communities Together programme manager, at email@example.com