The city council’s Community Locality Connectors started Community Lounges alongside already established groups
The team chat and build relationships with residents while listening for potential issues. This leads to on-the-spot action where the Connectors will help or phone the right service and take steps to prevent the problem getting worse or the person reaching crisis.
The Lounges, which have been running since the end of 2020, are part of a new community-led support programme led by the council working alongside a network of partners, organisations and local community groups as well as GPs, North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust and Midlands Partnership Foundation Trust.
An event to celebrate the success of the first two Lounges in the City is being held in Tommy Cheadle's, at Port Vale FC on Thursday 14 April 2022. This will follow the weekly session with the Golden Valiants, a group that has grown from nine members to 98 in ten months. They enjoy activities like coffee, bingo, quizzes and walking football.
A second Community Lounge is also held at Middleport Matters, another innovative site which operates an open-door policy for people who want to come along for support and a chat over a cup of tea. Others are developing across the city with the next one in Blurton in development.
Since the Connectors started to attend the Lounges, the average monthly issues they pick up have jumped from around 40 to around 74. Typical topics include money worries, mental health, housing problems and food parcels. Support with benefits has increased from around four a month in October 2020 to around 26 a month in February 2022.
Councillor Ally Simcock, cabinet member for adult social care and health care said: “The success of the lounges is down to the fantastic people who make it easy for us to come and support their members alongside their usual activities. This new approach means we don’t wait for residents to come to us.
“It is a community focal point where people know where to go, and alongside that we can bring our services to them and not the other way around. This success is dependent of great partnership working and on the strength of local communities in Stoke on Trent that enables people to be independent.
“Our connectors prevent problems escalating by talking to people in their own communities and intervening before things become more serious or someone reaches crisis point..
“A good example is if someone comes for a food parcel, our connectors may find that they’re also struggling with mental health or not claiming the right benefits. They quickly get them support and put them in touch with our income advice team or another agency that can help
“We know that many people don’t like picking up the phone or going to a council office. The connectors have the skills to just fit in and chat. It’s during these conversations that they listen and spot the signs.
“They have conversations with the person to find out what they can do, what their strengths are, what are their concerns, what they have already tried and what else might be effective. Once they understand their situation properly, they work with the person to find good solutions that work.
“This might be a health or social care service, but it’s just as likely to be connecting someone to a community group, helping them find new ways of doing things, or helping them become a volunteer.
“They build trust and take immediate steps to fix any problems.”
Carol Shanahan OBE, Port Vale FC co-owner, said: “Our Golden Valiants are a wonderful group who talk, laugh and smile each week. It’s been brilliant to see them grow and bring in new members to socialise together.
“Our football club prides itself in being a community club and motivating residents of all ages through our football team on the pitch and our Foundation Trust off it.
“We want to engage people, and inspire and support them to help people to fulfil their potential in their community. The introduction of a community lounge to the session has been a fantastic bonus to make it easy for older people to access services before any problems become serious.
"We are proud to have played a part in its success and hope to see more open across the City."
The Port Vale Foundation Trust is a registered charity which runs events, courses and programmes.
Council leader Abi Brown said: “I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the lounge at the Golden Valiants, meeting residents, hearing their stories and joining in bingo over a cup of tea. Our locality connectors are already part of the family there, providing support at a preventative stage and in a social environment. It’s providing the right care and support in the right way to have the best impact.”