Within a small geographic area, Reading has some of the most affluent and the most deprived neighbourhoods in the whole of the Thames Valley, and the gap is widening.
While a higher than average 76.2% of the large working age population is in employment (compared to a national rate of 74.2%) and weekly and hourly pay are both higher than the England averages.(JSNA, Employment) there are high levels of deprivation in the South of the borough, around the town centre, and in specific neighbourhoods in the otherwise affluent North and West of the borough. (JSNA, deprivation by ward)
Moreover, Reading has a higher than average ageing population, high levels of TB, opiate use, homelessness, incidence of long term health conditions, diabetes, preventable premature mortality and alcohol-related illness, and a high expected increase in cases of dementia. Alongside a lower than average male life expectancy and low cancer screening uptake rates, this has meant the demand for public services has been rising, whilst overall budgets are being cut.
It was clear that a totally new approach was needed. So, building on the excellent partnership work already being done by key local corporates, public service providers, charities and community groups – Ethos took up the challenge to drive the formation of a collaborative and facilitating ‘hub’, called ‘Joining the Dots’.
With a collective vision to improve living, working and wellbeing in Reading for all through enlightened leadership and open collaboration between individuals, organisations and delivery partners, including Thames Valley Police, Reading Borough Council, Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading Voluntary Action and Connect Reading – a Business Community Partnership that promotes public/private partnerships in the borough.
This new approach is already making a difference in Whitley, one of the most deprived areas in the borough. Rather than introducing an intervention from outside, the Joining the Dots approach has been to encourage and work with the local community to help facilitate projects from within around what their community wants and needs to improve.
With an already active Community Development Association as a starting point, and initial lottery funding, a Whitley Community Cafe has been set up as a local hub to provide structured training, employment and wellbeing/health services in a community in which ‘top down’ interventions had failed to make an impact. Results from this partnership with Joining the Dots so far include a mutually beneficial association with a local hotel manager and mentor and initiatives with the local homelessness support team.
Kirsti Wilson – Managing Director of Connect Reading – and a founding member of Joining the Dots project, explains:
“I often describe the work we’re doing here in Whitley as the dating-agency approach. Joining the Dots enables us to open doors and make introductions and connections for the Association that may not have been available to them before. Rather than always reacting to the next priority need, by working in this open and collaborative way with public, private and voluntary organisations, we are able to pool resources, create efficiencies and stimulating more grassroots and sustainable solutions through early intervention, prevention and education.”
Rob Pye, CEO of EthosVO Ltd says:
“We are doing something quite new and exciting with our programme in Reading. Demand for public services is increasing at a time when budgets are under pressure. We need to get upstream of the problem to look at the causes of demand rather than just dealing with symptoms. This multi-agency approach involves not just Government organisations but business and charity stakeholders too. We help to support a portfolio of projects whose interests are as close to the community as possible rather than being driven from the depths of large organisations. In this way we can ensure relevancy close to the source of demand and gain valuable insights about how to improve the value we add.”
Why not talk to Ethos about how this approach might help in your area?