“Inside out and upside down” – how preventative vision of the Care Act has been embraced in the West Midlands

Lets Talk Local (Diagram 1, p. 4)

Lets Talk Local (Diagram 1, p. 4)


The prevention report “Inside out and upside down:  Community based approaches to social care prevention in a time of austerity” showcases six councils that have developed their approaches to asset based community development in a climate of austerity.

As part of their wider Improvement Plan, West Midlands ADASS and Improvement and Efficiency West Midlands, committed in 2014 to undertake some work to look at the different approaches being taken across the West Midlands towards prevention and ways to support local communities.

The report draws out some of the themes that are emerging from these approaches and highlights some of the common factors that have been seen to be successful in both reducing costs and encouraging partnership working.

In the context of the imminent implementation of the Care Act and its emphasis on preventative approaches, the report is timely in highlighting the good work being done by West Midlands councils in this area.


You can view the report here.


What do you think of the report? Let us know using #bestbywm.

Public meeting live on facebook

Dudley Castle

Dudley Castle

Bums on seats at public meetings can be a real challenge for any local authority.

Unless there is a big local issue to engage people, a date with local councillors in a community centre on a rainy Wednesday night can be a tough one to keep. Equally, people lead busy lives and a public meeting is one too many balls to juggle along with work, family commitments and Coronation Street.

So when Dudley Council came up with the concept of community forums, making it as easy as possible for people to get involved was a top priority. There’s 10 held at community centres and village halls across the borough every other month.

They reflect the council’s desire to become a “community council” and the authority is keen to build on local democracy and transparency and give people a greater say in how their council is run. After all, there are lots of stories to tell from the borough’s communities about the work people do, and there’re lots to let them know about how the council can help them continue that work.

Turn out is good, but how do you get more people interested without having to leave the house? Step forward the biggest social media tool on the planet.

The two thousand or so people who like our Dudley Borough Facebook page regularly share posts and let us know when we’ve got things right and, well, not so right. So we decided to use the platform to give people the opportunity to ask questions and raise issues, and discuss them with senior politicians, they were more than happy to take part. It’s a meeting of people and it’s in public, and the early response has been excellent.

The idea has also attracted regional, national and global praise from the media and communications professionals.

Armed with a coffee and a PC Councillor Pete Lowe, deputy leader of Dudley Council, sat for an hour discussing local issues and answering questions as they came in on the page. On the first one, we had over 1,000 post views and 17 individuals actively take part – more than any single attendance at a physical public community forum. Numbers have stayed steady ever since and the council has gained a real insight into what makes people tick and offered up useful pointers for people including how to access up to £5,000 in funding for community groups. Importantly, people have been able to do all this without leaving the house.

In more recent forums we’ve shared key messages and discussion topics on twitter as they crop up during the hour to widen the audience. The Facebook forum has also now been added as an official council meeting with Cllr Lowe and the communications and public affairs team tasked with maintaining and improving the way they work. The online session is held before each round of 10 forums covering the 24 wards of Dudley borough with the offer of further face to face discussion with elected members if they need it.

The key to their success is buy-in from senior politicians and a genuine desire to hear what people have to say. Luckily we have both in Dudley.


Chris Howes

Communications and Public Affairs Officer,

Dudley Council

You can follow and connect with Dudley via multiple channels:






Photo Credit: ringsofsaturnrock via Compfight cc

Social Care Curry Club


Biryani Rice with Goat Masala and Lamb Rogan Josh

The Social Care Curry Club is an opportunity for people (anyone) to come together and discuss social care over curry. A lack of hierarchy is at the heart of Social Care Curry. Anyone can attend; what you do is less important than who you are; we also ask you to leave organisational baggage at the door and not sell stuff. Food is both a common language and a great leveller.

Funnily enough chatting over food isn’t a new idea. The Lunar Men were a dinner club and informal society of industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals who met regularly between 1765 and 1813 in Brum (more details here). No constitution, minutes, publications or membership survived. In short, the amount of structure was very limited. This was a place where people met over food and discussed ideas they were passionate about (as it happens some of those ideas involved electricity, meteorology and geology). A statue of Boulton (the original host), Watt and Murdoch can be found in Birmingham today opposite the fantastic new library.

Happily you don’t need to be a big wigged aristocrat to attend Social Care Curry (wiggy aristos also welcome). Many people who attend Social Care Curry remark on how intimidating and oddly exciting it is to walk into a room with total strangers and have no clue how the evening will go. So far so good!

Why do we need an opportunity to come together? No-one has ever experienced financial pressures like we are as a sector at present. It impacts on everyone, above all people who use care and support services and carers. The potential for anger, disenfranchisement and isolation are high and tragically for many a part of everyday life. Going for a curry won’t fix this but it does offer two things; connection and a sharing of ideas and experiences. The beauty of the format is it can mean totally different things to everyone who attends. Topics range from caring for people with Alzheimer’s to creative usage of technology in India. Talk or listen to whatever interests you.

Positive change starts with relationships and Social Care Curry offers many opportunities to connect. Equally the big wig wearing Lunar men had it right, formality and rules can kill creativity. The great works of literature were not written in a board room or the greatest songs of our time composed using a stopwatch. “Stop the clock, itzy rhymes with bitzy, what is the song about again? Yeah yeah bikinis, got it.”

Richard Humphries (Kings Fund Fellow and thrice Social Care Curry Club attendee) tweeted the following Charles Handy quote which draws the whole experience together perfectly:

“The hope lies in the unknown, in that second curve if we can find it. The world is up for reinvention in so many ways. Creativity is born in chaos. What we do, what we belong to, why we do it, when we do it and where we do it- these all may be different and they could be better. Change comes from small initiatives which, imitated, become the fashion. We cannot wait for great visions from people, for they are in short supply at the end of our history. It is up to us to light our own small fires in the darkness.”

So, you are welcome to light a little fire with us at the next Social Care Curry on the 6th March.
Venues will be confirmed in the coming weeks and you can book your free ticket at our Eventbrite page (bookings ready late Jan/Feb). All you pay for is the cost of your food and drink.

Follow @socialcarecurry on Twitter or click here to find out more about us. Thanks for all the connections so far; there are many more to come….


Matt Bowsher

Matt is an Assistant Director of Adult Social Care at Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council.

Picture Credit

Oatcakes and time for change at Oatcake Camp

Oatcake Camp logo

Oatcake Camp logo

At the end of November, the second ever Oatcake Camp took place. This time in Stoke-on-Trent. The venue was the newly refurbished YMCA and even better Oatcake Camp itself took place in the amazing Skyroom which has superb panoramic views of the city.
Oatcake Camp is a chance for people to come together, mainly from the public sector, to discuss ideas, debate and share learning, often focussed on social media or different ways to do things. It’s in its early days and the second session had a very different feel to the first, which was held in Stafford.
Carl Plant was first of our three speakers. Carl’s from a company called BitJam Ltd which specialises in digital innovation, research and training. His session looked at measuring community engagement on-line. Carl recapped on some of the techniques that can be used to measure whether you’re reaching the right people on-line and took us through the project he’d done looking at Stoke City Council’s twitter feed. While Carl designed his own technical solution for this, there were three top learning points I took from what he said and the debate that followed:

  1. You can do amazing things using people’s biogs and common words as useful search filters. This can help you find the social capital or glue that forms between friends, workmates, neighbours and others. One really good example of this was the common bond around the area’s local premiership team – Stoke City – which is bringing people together on-line regardless of their job or class.
  2. There is, and continues to be, pressure for people to prove the value of their social media channels. As we know this often results in a demand for high stats increases like more followers or likes, but these aren’t always the right things to measure. This is especially true if your followers are Californian weight loss companies and not the people from your local area that you actually want to talk to.
  3. It is clear that a lot of organisations – public sector & others – are revisiting what they want to achieve through social media. They’re realising that just getting on social media isn’t enough and they do need a strategy. So they’re going back to the drawing board and re-thinking their approach.
Staffs Oatcake

Staffordshire Oatcake

Clare White was next. Clare is a Health Education Project Manager with the Workers’ Educational Association, a national learning charity, as well as a writer and Stoke-on-Trent enthusiast. Clare used her passion for all things community to talk through Liam Barrington-Bush’s crowdfunded book Anarchists in the Boardroom as a starting point for how we can look at connecting excluded communities and give everyone access to power.
The top three gems that came from Clare’s session were:

  1. The people in Stoke are truly unique. If you live or work there, you’re naturally drawn to fix it and because the people in Stoke-on-Trent will quite happily talk to strangers, they have a natural tendency to be good at social media.
  2. Stoke’s got 6 towns and 58 villages. Parallels were drawn between Stoke and Dudley, Manhattan and New York in the 70’s. With the loss of its traditional industrial base, there’s a real opportunity to look afresh at how to do things. This is not dissimilar to experiences in other cities up and down the country.
  3. Anarchists in the Boardroom talks about social change, technology and how lessons from our personal relationships can change how we relate to the world. In essence it’s about how organisations can be ‘more like people’. (If you haven’t yet got a copy, it’s well worth a read – pick one up from www.morelikepeople.com)

Last up was Comms2point0 joint founder Dan Slee. Dan’s session was on whether the public sector can truly innovate in 2013 when budgets are being cut and jobs are being lost. Top things shared were:

  • Communities in Stoke and Staffordshire are highly motivated. Rather than waiting for people to do things for them, they’re getting on and doing themselves. Top examples include Leek’s Shop Local initiative which they’ve shared in Burslem and as far afield as Australia and a tweet up with the local paper where good connections were made. Other areas could learn a lot from this approach.
  • People who were at Oatcake camp are getting on and doing even if their organisations ‘aren’t’
  • If you can do one thing to think differently within organisations, make it that people are given creative space to think and innovate
  • A cracking suggestion made was to get an independent matchmaker or facilitator to pick some of the best ideas the community comes up and broker them.

For me, all the above reflects exactly the type of conversations that are happening in the public sector up and down the UK including the LGA’s Rewiring Public Services campaign which was recently hosted in the West Midlands by IEWM (more information can be found on IEWM’s blog).
With rising demand, decreasing funding and the opportunities being provided by technology, it’s a unique chance for communities and public sector organisations to completely reframe public services. The time has never been better to do this than now. So go on, see what you can do differently.
Both Oatcake events were sponsored by IEWM, without whom – and the time given by the speakers – they wouldn’t have happened. They have helped people to connect, been a solid source of new ideas and brought communities closer together. In my view it is by supporting and growing opportunities like this, that we have a real opportunity to rethink how we can do things in the public sector.

by Emma Rodgers

Senior Campaigns Officer at Staffordshire County Council

Photo Credit: deadmanjones via Compfight cc