Case Study – Making It Real: Dudley Community Information Point Network
Healthwatch Dudley working in partnership with Dudley Council, the voluntary sector, business community and with local people.
Healthwatch is the national consumer champion for health and care with significant statutory powers. Healthwatch Dudley is part of a network of local Healthwatch organisations helping to ensure that local people are listened to and their experiences are taken into account by people who plan and deliver health and care services.
What changes have been made
Community Information Points are an innovative approach to information giving though a network of community drop-in centres, libraries, council reception points, cafes, pharmacies, GP surgeries, and other places where local people feel conformable to access information about local services.
Healthwatch Dudley has trained more than 200 people from local organisations to help them to better support local people. Every month, staff and volunteers in information giving roles come together to network and discuss how to give clear information to prevent local people from getting into crisis. The sessions are interactive and also include guidance on using trusted websites to support people with information and access to health, care, benefits, debt and money management.
Ultimately, local people have better access to information to help them to deal with problems before they reach crisis.
In the last year we have trained 59 new information champions. It is difficult to evidence all of the impact that the network is having but paid staff and volunteers who take part in our training tell us how they now feel more confident, better informed, and better connected to people in other information giving roles.
Some volunteers join organisations to carry out a specific task, perhaps to sort food bank donations or help with administration, and are not prepared when vulnerable and often desperate people ask them questions.
The training better equips people to answer questions around:
- how to access doctors and dentists and how to locate them
- how to find out about benefits
- how a credit union is as an alternative to high street money lenders
- where to find sample letters to help with problem landlords
- how to find information about medication and health conditions
- how to link people to community and support groups
Most importantly, it helps information givers to understand the danger of giving advice if they are not trained to do so. They get to grips with the Citizens Advice website for signposting and if people need more intensive support, they better understand how to refer into advice services.
Challenges and how they were overcome
The network came together as a response to overcoming some of the challenges faced by local organisations providing services in the face of reducing budgets. There are lots of passionate people who work and give their time in Dudley Borough and our network better links them together.
From the outset we had a shared ethos of making it work with what we had. We didn’t look for funding as this would mean that the project could be time limited. Instead we pooled what we had; either time commitment or physical resources, such as meeting spaces. Healthwatch Dudley, Dudley Council and Dudley Citizens Advice each initially contributed £1000 to develop a brand and to pay for desk-top signs, Information Champion badges and training materials.
We have got a separate brand for the network which was developed by people who attended our early training sessions.
This approach makes it easier to continue although dedicated investment would enable us to provide more regular networking opportunities for our Information Champions and better opportunities to measure the impact that we are making, by keeping in regular contact the people who we have trained. Anecdotally, we are hearing how our Information Champions are making a big difference in our communities through their social prescribing. We have got plans to identify funding to enhance what we have started and to better capture some of this.
Good relationships are extremely important, as is trust and a commitment to making it happen. We hold regular multi-agency meetings to keep momentum going and to find solutions to problems. At the beginning of the project our local authority legal team were concerned that unqualified people would be giving advice and that our council would be liable. We overcame this by including disclaimers on our materials that say how our network does not give advice but is a great place to get information about local services.