Susan Elliot (pictured right), community coach, adult and community services at Durham Council, is one of the new types of workers being piloted in the Skills for Care initiative. She talks to Louise Tickle about her new role:
“My new role of ‘community coach’ came about with the move to encourage people with learning disabilities out of day centres, which were very segregated, and into doing more mainstream activities in the community. I’m one of a team of workers whose job is to research all the various classes and events that are on offer in our local area, and then support individual service users as they try things out.
Initially, when we got going in this “new type of worker” pilot a couple of years ago, it was very research intensive; we’d comb through newspaper listings, check what was being publicised by the council, at the library, get leaflets from the leisure centre and find out what was going on at nearby arts venues and community centres.
By now, most of the service users have activities sorted out that they enjoy and do regularly every week. Instead of a massive day centre, our team of community coaches will open up our little satellite office at 8.30am on Monday, welcome people in and then accompany them, in groups of no more than three, to whatever it is they’re off to. People go swimming, to football, rug-making classes, ceramics, tea dances, coffee mornings, all sorts.
None of these are “special” sessions, they’re all done with other people from the wider community. We’ll often have a chat with the course leader beforehand, but the service users are just treated the same as anyone else, which is what we want. We’re moving to being a flexible service, so while we work five days a week, if a service user wants to go to football in the evening, then we’ll adjust our hours to accompany them to it. There are quite a few now who are happy do stuff on their own and get themselves there and back under their own steam. It’s allowed them to make friendships, which is great to see.
Sometimes a service user can feel reluctant or shy about starting something new because they’ve been so used to sitting in a day centre day after day with the same people. It’s then our job to sit and talk to them, and encourage them to maybe just go with us for a walk past the venue, and then maybe pop in to have a little look inside, and often with that bit of encouragement, they’ll come round to trying it out.
I’d say it’s a more demanding job than working in a day centre, for example, because we’re on our own, responsible for a group of service users in the community, and we need to be on our toes, but it’s more rewarding and fun for us as well as being a more enjoyable life for them.”