A funny thing happened on the way to the tube station…

Today I visited Debbie Brown, Coaching Consultant at Barnet Council to find out how they are incorporating strengths based approaches into assessments and changing the council’s work so that practitioners can take this approach.

Their work is inspirational. It is framed with clear principles and practitioners are actively influencing the shape of the programme and the rollout.

They are highlighting hurdles which are both real and perceived. These are being actively unpicked for those that are real, and dispelled for those that are perceived, backed by clear and active leadership.

What are they doing?

  • Helping practitioners to understand what’s available in their community that could contribute to good support
  • Streamlining recording processes
  • Aligning IT and finance systems
  • Commissioners are  shifting to outcomes based commissioning and market facilitation

These themes are not uncommon to what other councils are doing up and down the country.


Time to return to the office in London. I was a bit peckish and being partial to a cake and latte, on the way to the tube station I spotted ‘The Waiting Room’ tea shop. Hunger sorted.

On looking around, I was a little surprised to see a lady knitting. There were some others also knitting and chatting away. “Hmm”, I thought, “seems a bit organised.”

Then I checked the chalk board. ‘Knit and nibble - come and knit or crochet with us! Exchange tips, ideas and encouragement with a slice of cake!’

“Sounds like a preventative commissioned programme/intervention or maybe something to help a shift from day services to day opportunities. I wonder if Barnet social workers know about it, it would really fit with their strengths based approach” I thought.

So I decided to investigate further…

Suraya runs a knitted wire jewellery business in Barnet. She works from home and attends regular outside retail events throughout the year. However, following a period of illness, her outside events had to be cancelled and she began to feel quite isolated, convalescing and running her business purely online.

She then explained how she got the idea for the group. She was a regular customer of The Waiting Room and knew the owners, Sophie and Caroline, well. She wanted to feel less isolated and missed the usual social interaction the retail events provided, she also wanted to give something back to the community. So she asked Sophie and Caroline if she could start a knitting group using The Waiting Room as a meeting space.


With some simple local marketing, the group steadily grew. A year later, she decided to utilise the success of the group further by using social marketing tools to increase the visibility of the group within the community.

She knew of a website, meetup that helps people with similar interests to connect. Their search engine allows anyone with particular interests, to see what is available within five miles of where they live. Within two weeks of being an official meetup group, she had over 75 members join.

Sophie told me how it’s now their biggest regular group. Suraya described how people who attend get so much more out of a shared activity. Most members live locally, exchanging invaluable information about local issues and services, and the group is a great support network

One of the group members told me about how it helps her to get out and have a break from her caring role. Suraya confirmed that group members are now aware of her other business offerings and sometimes buy her products.

Sounds like social value to me. Really natural community development and the community supporting itself to be resilient. With no state aid!

This was two hundred yards from Barnet’s council building.

What a fantastic morning Thanks are owed to Suraya and Sophie for your generosity in sharing what you’re doing in the community and to Debbie for sharing Barnet’s inspirational work on strengths based approaches.



Posted on by Old Site User

Hi Martin, Good to see you on here doing the work you where so good at before. Keep it up and keep in touch

Posted on by Peter Durrant

Good to hear again, as I age in staid old Cambridge, the notion that chance encounters are just one of the hundreds of opportunities and skills on which community development/social work could and should be restored and re-appraised.. But not sure, especially after being unable to trace anything that occurred following the Birmingham conference in April, on the possible future of community development/social work, that that there are any connections to be made. Any ideas or leads anyone?

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