Fortune telling

Promoting the services effectively of a new home improvement agency in Telford and Wrekin was proving difficult until a game show format changed its fortunes. Graham Hopkins finds out what the survey said

Name something you do to raise the profile of your service. The top answer for the Telford and Wrekin Home Improvement Agency is to make presentations based on the ITV game show Family Fortunes.

The agency, set up with Supporting People funding, provides a wide range of help and support to vulnerable and disabled people on problems affecting their homes. It also provides a falls prevention and community safety service called Homesafe, in partnership with the Fire Brigade, Energy Advice Centre and crime prevention unit. “With Homesafe we survey an older person’s house and look for any issues on fire safety, security, falls prevention, energy efficiency and home maintenance,” says agency services manager Paul Smith, who set up the agency in September 2004. 

One of the biggest challenges for a new service is getting itself known. “We had delivered some presentations to older people’s groups,” says Smith. “But they weren’t getting the message across. People needed something more to engage with. So we had the idea of using the game show format. It’s more interactive, it’s a bit of fun and it seems to work.”

Its appeal has certainly outstripped the TV show, which was cancelled after unspectacular daytime ratings in 2002. “As more people have seen it more have asked us along to present it. We’re probably doing it once or twice a fortnight now,” says Smith. The “show” is also presented to interested groups and professionals, including social workers, health visitors and the Supporting People forum.

The agency’s clients have evaluated the service positively. Its own survey said 97 per cent of people were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the work carried out in their home, with an impressive 81 per cent of people “very satisfied” with the service overall. Also 83 per cent said their health and well-being had improved as a result.

Among those impressed is Ellen Rodgers,* 75, who was referred by police because of her fear of burglary. Smith says: “She could not get out of her front door because the lock did not work properly and she had lost the keys. The Homesafe technician fitted a new lock. Mrs Rodgers told him her toilet had blocked, so he spent the next three hours fixing the problem. As a result of the visit, she was also referred for a Warmfront grant, which provides a package of energy efficiency and heating, and an assessment for adaptations by social services.”

Indeed, this illustrates the way the agency works: “Whatever the referral might be about we will check everything,” says Smith. “If we’re in their home because they’ve had a burglary we’ll check their energy efficiency as a matter of course.”

Such practical help brings together many agencies. “For example, the local hospital refers many of their clients to us to check out their houses to try to prevent them falling again,” he says. “Part of what we do is to fix a letter-box cage on the back of the front door so they don’t have to bend down to pick up their post.”

Similarly, a community alarm provider was looking for somebody to fit Keysafes (which allow care staff to enter homes where a person may have difficulties in answering the door). Smith says: “We offered to fit them free if the person agreed to have a home safety check at the same time. We try what we can to get our foot in the door – and start making a difference.”

It is safe to say that the agency, with a national push towards preventive services, should go from strength to strength: “If we can spend a few pounds making sure that people don’t fall over and so on – it saves a lot of money in the long run.”

* Not her real name

Fortune telling - lessons learned

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