Town Centre Living: We are developing and inviting a conversation on a Caring Place through our social media channels and on this website. In this blog Ian Brooke, Deputy Director at Edinburgh’s Voluntary Organisation Council (EVOC), shares his thoughts on care in the community.
Bringing together of thoughts around physical space and the idea of a ‘caring third sector’ might seem an unusual relationship. Certainly my first go-to thought processes lead me to the predictable connections between third sector and people. But of course physical space plus people equals town and cities and communities, so perhaps as a triangle of interconnectivity of these three themes there is after all, a natural synergy, and they are not distant from one another.
Care and Regeneration
What might regeneration in the sense of revitalisation and injection of social capital actually look like? How might we guide policy and action on the ground to provide that element ‘of caring’? How do we create the physical space, not for blocks of flats or a multiplex, but for communities to care for one another and for themselves? I’m drawn to think about a couple of areas of traditional philanthropic and benevolent activity – caring for people and civic amenity.
Buildings as third sector operational bases are nothing new and are a big draw on funds both as a capital cost and as ongoing revenue liabilities. Care Homes are an example where caring activity within the space is an essential service. Build or convert a shiny compliant building, and there is an automatic community to be cared-for, often by a charity providing operational services. But do planners consider a Care Home not only in its physical sense but in the sense that this becomes a good use of town centre land, with good transport for staff, relatives and for the people inside to venture out safely? We are seeing more and more progressive Care Home operators seeing their residents become more integrated into the local community and for the community to use the space within the Care Home – the space becomes an asset not a warehouse. The design of physical space and streets around a Care Home should be influenced by the residents’ needs and that makes for good shared space, fully accessible and safe for everyone.
Bringing People Together
Well designed and interconnected Sheltered Housing complexes bringing together people with support needs in their own homes is another example of a good use of regenerated land in town centres – older people need to get to the shops for a new pair of shoes or a hair appointment too!
The Dementia friendly communities movement brings something similar from the angle of people – be they people with dementia, their carers, third sector – but importantly the local community and businesses. Knowing that the local newsagent has been trained in dementia awareness, and welcomes older people with often misunderstood needs, is a big step towards inclusivity and understanding. The bus driver takes more time to load the vehicle and takes a moment to care if they’ve been made ‘dementia aware’.
Turning to civic amenity, ‘Friends of parks’ groups and the growing ‘Adopt a street’ idea are both good opportunities for informal volunteering. Both require people to care about their local environment but also bring with them an added element of knowledge and awareness of the needs of other local people. Residents become aware of dropped kerbs, lack of lighting by the bushes alongside the playpark and may even start to think radically about reusing space traditionally zoned for parking or for through traffic on congested town centres roads – to better meet their needs and aspirations. Further activity-based inclusion for people who ‘care’ could include schemes for residents of blocks of flats or a Care Home that look-out onto what is effectively a green desert, encouraged to get involved in landscaping, allotments, planting.
And who knows? As well as building physical places, we manage to build communities too.
Ownership of spaces by an entire community can be idealistic. The children’s play park – sited in front of the retirement village? All of those screaming toddlers… Move away from top-down officer led decision-making to place-making with true community involvement. Fantastic comms and community events, bringing people together to understand one another and yes, making compromises is the ‘holy grail’. Difficult? Luckily, the third sector is a community development expert.