Re-thinking social care is as easy as ABCD at Leeds pilot projects

A freshly expanded project which discovers talented people and puts them at the heart of their communities has the potential to be one of the “most significant shifts” in social care in decades, according to the man behind the scheme in Leeds.

Cadence and Melissa playing with Lego at the LS14 Trust in Seacroft. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Cadence and Melissa playing with Lego at the LS14 Trust in Seacroft. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Asset Based Community Development - or ABCD as it is better known - was first developed by Irish academic Cormac Russell and has spread around the world as a way to nurture neighbourliness and community networks, provide grassroots services and tackle issues around social care, health, and loneliness while taking pressure off organisations like local councils and the health care providers.

Leeds City Council first trialed the approach, which sees ‘community builders’ at existing charity or community groups seek out ‘assets’ in their communities to develop new services, at three of the city’s Neighbourhood Networks in 2013, including at Action for Gipton Elderly, and since then, the project has slowly grown. This year it is expanding to 12 groups.

The council’s chief officer for transformation and innovation, adults and health, Mick Ward, has spent years developing the approach, which has been successfully implemented in Seacroft at the LS14 Trust; in Armley thanks to New Wortley Community Association; and in Chapeltown, where it is hosted by Black Health Initiative.

LS14 Trust's community development manager Joanne Curtis with volunteers Geraldine Talbot, Pauline Cass, Linda Palmer and Gemma Docherty at the centre's new cafe. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

Mr Ward said: “The ABCD approach is about recognising the strengths of everybody in the community, realising that everyone has something to offer, and giving them the chance to blossom. We work with individuals to discover their passion and interests and how that can be used to benefit the people around them.

“This will mean, in some cases, them setting up things, such as knit and natter groups.

“It’s about moving away from ‘services’ - and the notion that everything can be sorted out by the council, to looking at how the issues people have can actually be better served by having good neighbours and good contacts in the community.

“I have worked in social care for 40 years, and this is one of the most significant shifts I have seen, with potential not just for social care, but in other council departments too. It is incredibly cost effective, as you’re just funding the community builder in places and groups that already exist, like the LS14 Trust.

Four-year-olds Jason and Lauren playing at the LS14 Trust. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

“I’m constantly amazed at the people they find - quite often they could be the sort of person, who, in another world, might end up as a service user themselves, but by getting involved in their communities, they are both helping other people and themselves.”

At LS14 Trust, switching the way of thinking to the ABCD model has resulted in a host of new services for the people of Seacroft - from arts therapy and a volunteer-led cafe, to having a spruced up garden at its community building on Ramshead Hill.

Community development manager Joanne Curtis said the key to the project was “identifying strong people in the community and developing their dreams”, instead of people “flying in” and telling them what they should be doing.

The first ‘asset’ - or person - they supported at LS14 Trust was Vivienne Gibbons.

She was helped through an art therapy degree and went on to set up The Art Room, free art psychotherapy at the Trust.

“That’s just one way an asset-based approach has demonstrated clear health benefits,” Ms Curtis said. “Now, one of her original clients also offers holistic arts and therapy. A couple of others have also set up their own groups.

“Anybody can be an asset, whether it’s because of a certain talent they have, or knowledge of the local area. We are here as a space for them to deliver their dreams. It’s an amazing opportunity to give people a chance.”

Mr Ward added: “As a council officer, one of my targets is for people in Leeds to have more friends. ABCD isn’t about walking away from our responsibilities, it’s about trying to meet them in a different way.”