Birmingham’s Neighbourhood Network Schemes were thanked on Wednesday (30 March 2022) for their support to communities during the pandemic. Kalvinder Kohli, Programme Director – Prevention and Early Intervention, Birmingham City Council said:

“This is an opportunity to express our deepest gratitude to you all in terms of how you have been leading the response through the pandemic in each of the localities. Thanks to each and every one of you who stood up to that challenge and brought the sector response together to coordinate our efforts. It was phenomenal.”
“I talk to my counterparts in other local authorities about how Birmingham came together as a city in response to the pandemic and it was led and driven by the voluntary sector. As a result thousands of vulnerable citizens, households, families across the city have been supported through your efforts.”

Over 100 Neighbourhood Network Scheme workers, local community organisations and officers within the council’s Adult Social Care directorate came together on Wednesday 30 March to share their achievements and celebrate the way in which older people’s lives have been enhanced through the work of NNS teams. There was an opportunity to hear from each of the NNS schemes about the impact they had made.

In Ladywood, Midland Sailing Club was funded to provide some accessible sailing sessions. For one disabled man “he is no longer feeling as if he is controlled all the time, but he has found he has the ability to control his environment.”

Hall Green funded a digital recycling project. Salim Shaikh, from Smartlyte Ltd explained how, working with Muath Trust, they had received devices from the city council, individuals and other orgs including CitySave and Restore. Salim said:

“We took a bottom up approach and evaluated the needs of the residents. These were around data, devices and skills so that is what we’re delivering. In total we recycled and redistributed 47 devices, with 15 going to assets [local community organisations] and 32 to individuals. Whenever we give out devices we need to upskill people as well. The Digital Champions programme has been launched and so far we have 12 champions, delivering over 200 hours of support.”

Hannah Fielder from the Redeemer Church in Northfield talked about the support that NNS gave them around planning projects and applying for funding.
“NNS has been such a change to what we can offer the community. Lois [former NNS Coordinator] helped us to fundraise and bidwrite and that was totally new to us. That has totally changed everything. It has helped us expand the services we are offering as well as finding new people who are socially isolated and offer them new things.”
“In the pandemic one of the things that we tried was a mobile coffee morning that proved so effective for reaching socially isolated people that even out of the pandemic we will continuing doing that. I fill the boot of my car with tea, coffee and biscuits and knock on doors and have a chat with them.”

“NNS has also shown us how to do referrals to Adult Social Care. Thanks NNS you have really changed what we can do to support our community and we’re thrilled to do it.”

The 10 Neighbourhood Networks Services – one for each constituency – are funded by Birmingham City Council and run by a number of local voluntary and community organisations with the council’s Neighbourhood Development Support Unit running Perry Barr and Selly Oak. They provide people over 50 with a range of community-based support within their neighbourhoods. As well as helping citizens’ independence and creating strong community links and making our neighbourhoods better places to grow old in, it reduces demand for more traditional and expensive care packages by focusing on prevention.

The Neighbourhood Networks’ role is to strengthen local communities so that older people can lead healthy, happy, independent lives within their own homes and communities. They do this by promoting and developing partnership work between the voluntary and community sector, and parts of the public sector, especially local social work teams and social prescribing link workers.

Each constituency has a grants scheme which have funded activities as broad as food and befriending support during the Covid-19 pandemic to coffee chats, seated yoga, walking football, art, allotments, support with gardening, social activities for those caring for people with dementia and many more.

Cllr Paulette Hamilton, cabinet member for health and social care, said:
“This is about investing in targeted prevention activity. The earlier we do this, the better for the individual, and it avoids costly statutory intervention. So we need to continue to invest in our communities and ensure third sector grants go to groups that can use it to do some great prevention work.”

Neighbourhood Network Schemes have come a long way since the first stage of identifying existing activity and support for older people back in 2018. The contracts with the organisations leading this work in each constituency came to an end at the end of March 2022. However, given the success of NNS Schemes Birmingham City Council has agreed to fund the NNS initiative for a further five, or possibly seven, years starting from 01 April 2022. (Details below). New contracts are in place for the Lead Facilitators in each constituency. In addition, BVSC will continue to provide support for the NNS teams across the city and the Adult Social Care commissioning team.

A major addition to the work of NNS teams is that all NNS teams will also be ensuring there is support for people with additional needs in the community. This will be primarily focussed on people aged 18-50 with physical disabilities, sensory loss, poor mental health, learning disabilities & who are neurodiverse. NNS teams will be seeking out provision in neighbourhoods, and with social workers and local citizens assessing what gaps can be addressed by NNS funding. During 2021-2022 this approach has been piloted in Hodge Hill and Sutton Coldfield. Hodge Hill NNS funded a project for women with poor mental health. Donna Barton from Go Women Alliance explains the project:

“Walking With Words started in September 2021 for women who have English as an additional language. We run two walks each week lasting 1 ½ hours. We have a canal route and a park route, and it’s a choice which route the ladies want. There’s lots of opportunities to talk whilst you’re walking. Lots of conversations have taken place. The ladies have been walking for seven months now. Two of them have never missed a week. In addition, we have developed digital skills. Some of the ladies downloaded the step by step tracker. Some were interested in the plants we saw by the canal so they downloaded the LeafSnap app to identify them. They’ve done 903,000 steps.”
We’ve also gone back to the centre and looked at swapping things from what we’re eating and weighed some of the women and developed personalised plans for them. Due to literacy skills we developed pictorial plans with photographs. One woman has lost 53 pounds.”

“One of their targets was to walk to the German market at Christmas. Seven participants walked along the canal. It was a big celebration. On the way back the ladies came back on the train. Two of the ladies had never done that. We paid for the tickets but they purchased them themselves.”

Much has been achieved over the past few years, but NNS teams are keen to keep developing the local support. They are particularly keen to hear from organisations who provide activities and support in the community for citizens with additional needs.
All the activities and support that NNS identify are listed on the Connect To Support website which can is searchable by citizens looking for activities and community organisations wanting to check if they are listed: