Learning about Asset-Based Areas

Alex Fox
Alex Fox, Shared Lives Plus
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Alex Fox, Vice Chair of the TLAP board, shares what he has learnt about asset-based areas as he moves to a new role.

I’ve spent the last decade working with the team and network of Shared Lives Plus, who bring some of the most radical care, support and inclusion to thousands of people in the UK through Shared Lives (opens new window), Homeshare (opens new window) and now Family by Family. I have been involved in Think Local Act Personal for the whole of that time, as part of its emerging movement (opens new window) of ‘asset-based’ or ‘strengths-based’ organisations.

As we publish a new guide to creating Asset-Based Areas, here are some things I’ve learned.

Think ‘whole-person’, ‘whole-family’, ‘whole-community’

For many public services, seeing the whole person only gets as far as trying to recognise more than one set of support needs. But, even at the toughest times in our lives, we are more than our support needs. We are our strengths, dreams and the relationships we have with those around us. So, let’s look for where the person has come from, and where they want to go, not just the present moment of crisis, when so much of the person’s life, capabilities and connections may be least visible.

Think whole system...

To work with the whole-person and the people important to them successfully, you have to recognise the ways in which our broken systems are part of the problem. For our work to grow, ultimately, we have to be prepared to replace those systems with something more human. The Asset-Based Area model describes what this change looks like in ten steps.

...but tell a simple story

Thinking whole-system is complex. Talking about it can seem abstract and long-term. The more ambitious we are about change, the more important it becomes to tell a clear, simple, human story about how people’s lives can change. We need to be able to point to that change happening on the ground so that people believe in it. Hope is precious and powerful.

As important as what we do, is how we do it. But who gets to be a part of that 'we' is the most important of all

Perhaps the most ground-breaking and influential aspects of TLAP’s work has been how it’s been done, with co-production at the heart. TLAP’s board was the first place in our sector where the full range of social care organisations, including government, came together with people who use services and their families, to co-produce the programme and key products like Making it Real (opens new window). This changed expectations about how decisions should be taken in the sector, and crucially who should be in the room. As TLAP’s chair Clenton Farquharson says, “if you are not sitting at the table, you may be on the menu!”

Be radical - and pragmatic

There is a self-fulfilling aspect to the goals we set ourselves. Our level of ambition limits how seriously others see us. And sometimes, the bigger the organisation, the less likely its leaders are to believe it can radically change. So small organisations face the danger of not being able to scale, and the danger of reaching scale but losing their radicalism. I’m excited to be moving to Mayday Trust because they stopped doing well-regarded work when people told them it wasn’t creating lasting system change, and co-designed strengths-based coaching, which people said could actually work.

I’ve learned from the people we work with how to be more human, and how to see the invisible asylums (opens new window) we maintain under the guise of ‘community care’. I’ve watched in awe as some people have broken out of long stays in those places of safety and oppression, and built lives both freer and more connected. And I’ve felt the creeping power of ‘the system (opens new window)’.

The final lesson is that I’ve not always been able to see where I’ve been part of that system, particularly when I’ve been thinking and acting from a position of privilege. Living the social change we call for, particularly when it comes to inequalities, is still a work in progress for almost all charities. And that’s one reason why TLAP’s support for its partners, and its challenge to all of us to co-produce, is still so vital.

Alex Fox OBE is leaving Shared Lives Plus to become chief executive of Mayday Trust after 11 years.


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