Everywhere I go at the moment people are talking about Chapter 2 of the NHS Five Year Forward View - how to have a new relationship with people and communities, what this means, and how it is achieved ‘on the ground’.
My main role at Macc is to increase collaboration between voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector organisations and health and social care colleagues. I think we all understand the massive resource and expertise that the VCSE sector can offer as a partner. This is great, but I’m also particularly interested in the ‘people’ bit. That, to me, is the essential element that always seems to be left behind.
We talk a lot about ‘community asset-based approaches’ but the conversation still seems to revolve around community-based services and organisations that are more effective than the NHS at building relationships and fixing needs in communities. But it still defines the people in these communities as the problem that needs to be fixed. We know that problems exist, but we also know that if we continuously define people by what they need, they tend to very quickly lose sense of what they have to give. Every day in communities people have lots of things to give that are undervalued and unseen.
This is why I’m so passionate about Timebanking. People who love Timebanking genuinely believe that we should never stop valuing people and their contributions to society. It’s about talking to people who would never volunteer in the traditional sense, but who have so many skills, gifts and talents. Whenever I talk to NHS staff about the people that they are supporting, particularly older people or those with long-term conditions, they tend to list the same issues: people lack self-confidence and motivation; they have lost their sense of purpose; they are lonely and isolated, and they eventually give up. Yet when I talk to the same people about joining a community-led Timebank they tell me that they love baking cakes, they play the piano, they used to be a dress maker, and that they don’t want to become dependent on a service.
Timebanking gives us the opportunity to build upon those strengths by recognising that everyone has something to offer, including those who are often defined as disadvantaged or vulnerable. Everyone’s time and skills are valued equally and this is a great equaliser as we all have the same number of hours in each day. It enables Mrs. M. to sew a set of curtains for a neighbour in her home in exchange for some help with maintaining her garden. She is valued for sharing a skill that is important to her, meets a neighbour, and gets support in return. All based on reciprocity, trust, respect and the principle that 'one hour of my time is as valuable as one hour of your time'.
Think about the impact on health and wellbeing if we defined people by their gifts and what they could offer others, instead of by their list of medical conditions to be fixed.