On-the-ground help has arrived to support co-operative approaches to social care and well-being

The Welsh Government has funded the Wales Co-operative Centre to provide north and south Wales-based development advisers who can help Welsh citizens and communities form their own social care and support organisations. The new Social Services and Well-Being Act has strong aspirations for citizens who use care and support services to have “a strong voice and real control”. Creating and running your own local, democratically controlled organisation is a powerful way of ensuring your voice is heard. But it isn’t easy to start up a new venture without good advice and guidance from someone with legal and technical know-how. And if you want to provide good quality care and support there can be regulations to comply with, and ways of providing excellent services that may not be obvious and need to be learned.

On both these challenges, the new “Care to Co-operate” team will be there to support you to avoid making unnecessary mistakes or reinventing wheels.

It will also be there to help existing agencies (like my own charity Cartrefi Cymru) to offer the rights and responsibilities of active membership to the people who use our services. It won’t be easy to change from a top-down approach to a bottom-up model in which beneficiaries/service-users become the members and co-owners of a co-operative organisation.  And it won’t only be managers who will have to learn new attitudes and skills but people who use services, and families too.  Taking control can be a big step. Speaking up can take confidence.

Once again, the development advisers at “Care to Co-operate” will be there to help us.

And these are challenging developments for statutory authorities like health boards and social services departments. The new Act puts a duty on local authorities to promote social enterprises, user-led organisations, and co-operatives. Growing numbers of professionals can see the good sense of promoting the self-help capacity of citizens and communities, not just because public funds are tight but because NOT to do so is frankly daft.  It’s daft to treat citizens as just people in need of paid help. Everyone has got something to give, and what most people need are unpaid social relationships. But it is one thing to see the huge potential in nurturing people’s skills and strengths in co-operative organisations and another thing to actually make it happen.

The “Care to Co-operate” project is also there to help public bodies play their part in enabling citizens and communities to help themselves.

As Chair of the Social Co-operation Forum, I am absolutely delighted to see this project come to fruition. The Forum, a network of citizens, support providers, researchers and co-operative enthusiasts, has worked with the Wales Co-operative Centre for several years, in support of what we loosely call “social co-operation”. By this we mean any form of co-operative, self-help organisation controlled by its members with a social purpose, such as bringing people together to solve problems in their communities. For social co-operation the focus is on providing care and support, or inclusive employment, or a range of activities that promote an individual’s well-being.

We’ve learned a lot in recent years about the success of social co-operation in countries like Italy and Canada. But the exciting thing is that we now have some expert resources to help us succeed in Wales.

You can contact the Care to Co-operate team via http://wales.coop/care-to-co-operate/ or telephone 0300 111 5050.

If you’d like to find out more about the Social Co-operation Forum (or Cartrefi Cymru and its co-operative journey), please drop me an email: adrian.roper@cartrefi.org.

Adrian Roper

CEO Cartrefi Cymru

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