In our collection of essays, 'Insights for A Better Way', we include stories that bring our Better Way propositions to life. Here, Clare Wightman brings home the value of applying our Better Way proposition, 'Building on strengths is better than focusing on weaknesses'.
I work in Spon End, in Coventry. Like people, neighbourhoods can get a reputation that stops you from seeing the good in them. People call Spon End ‘the Bronx of Coventry’ – people who’ve never been to the real Bronx. The story I am going to tell you now is about the good and the bad in my neighbourhood.
Chris, Margaret and their daughter lived on a tough estate. Some neighbours spotted their vulnerability. Pretending to be friends, people like Linda would come in, take over the flat and use their phone. This went on for years. Then things got even worse. Margaret told us they were hounded by some people. ‘They swore and shouted at us, put rubbish through our letterbox. They would knock our door at night with masks on. They even stole our daughter’s birthday balloons and banners. It was horrible. We phoned the police but they didn’t take us seriously.’
The turning point came when we got alongside an older neighbour and talked about the problem with her. Next time she reported the harassment to the police. She could write down what happened and when. Chris and Margaret felt reassured that she spoke up for them. We talked to the local shopkeeper too and asked them to keep an eye out.
We introduced Chris and Margaret to another couple, Robin and Christine, who invited them for a BBQ and movie nights. The two men enjoy vegetable gardening. In fact, there is a growing community of gardeners that help each other out – including that older neighbour who called the police.
It makes all the difference when we’ve got people around us who can help us to get over problems, and not feel we’re stuck on our own. And help is available in communities if we know how to find it.
Faced with Chris and Margaret’s experiences we had a choice. We could have just given them a service, a set of transactions – called the police, called the social landlord, supported them to have their say in meetings and make reports to both. But then at the close of day they’d have gone home, to the estate, alone.
We choose to help them get some real friends instead. We knew that real friends would help draw the couple in from the edge, from living on the thin ice that left them vulnerable to the type of abuse that was escalating towards them.
Building on strengths is better than focusing on weaknesses. There were real strengths in that community as well as threats and communities are powerful when people act together. They can solve problems that professionals on their own can’t.
This story cuts to the heart of what we could offer in a very difficult climate for people and services alike.
Clare Wightman is the CEO of Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire and relationships are at the heart of their work. Clare's particular interest is working in a way that develops and connects networks of local people for mutual help and support.