Borough leads way on social services shake-up

NESTA Project Team visit to Sunshine House, Scholes
NESTA Project Team visit to Sunshine House, Scholes

REPRESENTATIVES of a national charity which specialises in bringing innovative ideas to life visited Wigan to see how one of their pioneering projects is progressing.

People at the Heart of Scholes is one of six local authority projects selected as part of the Creative Councils programme by NESTA, the national leaders in innovation, in partnership with the Local Government Association.

The pilot project is looking at ways to address the acute challenge of how the council meets rising needs in the provision of adult social care, at a time when the population is ageing and budgets are diminishing.

The project aims to connect people with health and social-care needs with the vast under-used resource of neighbours, local people, volunteers and groups who want to give something back.

Project managers from the council, with the support of the community, organised a two-day “camp” in Wigan to showcase the work currently being developed.

As well as representatives of NESTA, attendees of the event included officers from the five other local authorities involved in the Creative Councils programme: Cornwall, Derbyshire, Monmouthshire, Rotherham and Stoke.

They were joined by the leader of the Local Government Association and the prestigious National Innovation Unit.

Coun Keith Cunliffe, Wigan Council cabinet member for healthier communities, said: “This week’s event was an opportunity to demonstrate how we are progressing in delivering a very ambitious and exciting project and to get the ideas and support from the other Creative Councils on how to develop the concept.

“Over the past six months, we have been testing a number of ideas including a ‘community credits’ scheme to encourage community contributions, volunteering and local business development.

“It’s hoped that lessons learnt from this early work will be used to benefit the rest of the borough, and who knows, perhaps the entire country.”

People at the Heart of Scholes is a key part of the new arrangements for personal budgets for adult social care, which will give service users and families greater control over the way in which their personal needs are met.

Lord Smith, leader of Wigan Council, said: “This event has been a very useful platform to explore how People at the Heart of Scholes will work in practical terms.

“We value the support from NESTA and the LGA because this is a truly ambitious project which is focused on one of the key social policy challenges for government nationally, and here in Wigan borough.

“We live in challenging times and we recognise the need for radical innovation.

“This project could potentially reap unprecedented benefits, not just for the vulnerable and isolated people who rely on social care services but also, in the long term, it could have a significant impact on the broader social care economy. We are committed to this work and have the capacity and enthusiasm to turn good ideas into real solutions.”

Donna Hall, Wigan Council Chief Executive, added: “At a time when the Council has to make significant savings in all areas of work it is really important that we keep looking for new ideas in the way that we work.

“This programme with NESTA has given us the chance to trial some radical ideas for how we can work better in communities.”

Philip Colligan, Executive Director of NESTA’s Innovation Lab, said: “It’s been a real privilege to spend time in Wigan working with the council, its partners and the community members involved in the Heart of Scholes project.

“The future of social care services is one of the biggest questions facing all councils and the pioneering work that is happening in Wigan has the potential to show the way for the rest of the UK.”