In addressing poverty and issues around income support and social inclusion in two of Glasgow’s most impoverished areas, the Building Connections programme aimed to improve social and economic wellbeing for those experiencing multiple hardships. Developing and testing approaches to collaborative practice was central to the impact of this multi-faceted approach.

Jamie Sinclair was the Programme manager at the helm: “The focus was ultimately on improving social and economic outcomes for people, whilst simultaneously developing a body of evidence regarding collaborative working. Throughout the programme, funders including the Scottish Government, Glasgow Centre for Population Health, What Works Scotland, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Glasgow Kelvin College and the NHS provided guidance, expertise and support, whilst also having complete trust in the methods underpinning the work”

“Recent changes to the Social Security system and the introduction of new legislation, alongside conditionality requirements (that people had to meet to receive their benefits) impacted some of the cities most vulnerable people. Considering nearly a third of the city lives in poverty, changes to social security payments had significant economic consequences for a large proportion of people” said Jamie.

The programme aimed to:

  • Develop and test practical approaches to delivering collaborative service delivery projects within, and across, the public and third sectors.
  • Improve social and economic outcomes for local communities engaging with the projects.
  • Contribute to a better understanding of how collaborative service delivery projects work in practice at a local level, particularly those which involve co-locating services.

Ensuring sound relationships and inclusivity was central to the processes undertaken. “The first step was to talk to community organisations and local community members to find out about their experiences. We made a conscious effort to engage with every level of the organisation. We needed to understand the relationship between legislation, policy and practice. By doing so, we actually contributed to national approaches to tackling poverty” said Jamie. This was a place-based response focused through a specific lens to capture the broadest range of feedback possible.

“We looked at Job Centres and General Practitioner offices because of the number of people using those services and relationships formed within them. General practices in particular were an interesting case. They are private, no one knows your business and there’s no stigma attached to attending. Ultimately services were located in places that people frequent with the understanding that one size won’t fit all. It was important to embrace complexity and work with it.”

Increasing income and reducing costs was the major focus for the program. “Ensuring people were receiving the social security payments they were entitled to receive and attempting to reduce their living costs and help manage existing debt, was a core component of the services delivered by partner organisations.”

Another consideration was that people have histories with organisations and buildings. Discussions need to reflect that. For example, delivering services from job centres was a more complex process than from general practices. Due to the function of job centres (i.e. administer of social security) peoples experiences may not have had always been positive. The potential tension between job centres and people needed consideration. So too did the histories between partner organisations. Some difficult and challenging relationships existed, both organisationally and individually. These needed to be addressed. “When relationship issues exist, we need to call them out or they’ll impact what is achieved” stated Jamie.

Through this project it was ascertained that phone calls for support don’t work. Workers need to utilise the relationships they build and do a soft handover by taking the person and introducing them to the next person working with them. How people access services such as: signposting, referrals, or co location – including how they are referred or welcomed were delved into in the recognition that these factors can be important for individuals to more successfully engage.

“Working collaboratively is difficult and complex. It’s dynamic, it changes. We need to acknowledge that. It was important to make sure that professionals had the collaborative skills and abilities to work this way” noted Jamie.

“Most importantly we learned how to listen, negotiate, consult and how to break down the hierarchies that cause so many issues for collaborative practice. Senior managers, operational managers, front line practitioners, policy makers, local community members and researchers all contributed to the programme. Each person was respected for the unique contribution they brought to the project. That was a major aspect of the interest for all parties and I believe contributed significantly to the positive outcomes” he said.

Whilst Jamie was clear that relationship building is essential and needs to be factored in, he urged the recognition that whilst all those involved have expertise, they also have their own biases, assumptions and prejudices and those too are part of building relationships. He noted that what worked well in breaking down some of the barriers and improving relationships was people with lived experiences sitting with staff telling their stories of what worked for them in engaging services.

The programme involved 3 collaborative service delivery projects:

Springburn job centre English Language hub aimed to improve social and economic outcomes for ethnic minority communities through delivering co-located volunteering, apprenticeship and employment advice in the job centre.

This place-based approach was layered with thematic considerations in that they considered particular groups rather than grouping them into one group. These groups included: single parents, ethnic minority communities and asylum seekers.

Parkhead job centre partnership suite aimed to improve social and economic outcomes for people through co-locating financial, social security, mental health, lone parents, young people, employment and addictions advice in the job centre.

Jamie noted that significant poverty in this area with limited infrastructure meant that the best option was to ensure people were more able to access services that they are entitled to. Even though there was a vibrant service group in place many people could not access these. As such it was decided to use a job hub with revolving services coming into the one space for ease of access.

Deep End Advice Worker project aimed to improve social and economic outcomes for people accessing the general practitioner services and reduce the time medical staff spent on non-clinical issues through embedding an advice worker into two general practices. Locating this service in GP offices ensured the use of a space people regularly frequent without stigma.

Outcomes of the Building Connections programme were significant. By ensuring people were on the right form of social security payment, the programme secured nearly $1.8 million worth of additional income for people engaging with the service delivery projects It also identified and put management plans in place for over $360,000 worth of household debt. It contributed to the national work involving Scottish Social Security Agency, Child Poverty Strategy, Social Isolation and Loneliness Strategy. The work also contributed to the vibrant tackling poverty landscape in Scotland and complemented the work of multiple agencies currently attempting to reduce poverty in the country.

Recommendations from the work included the recognition of the need for the involvement and input of the local communities and respect for their lived experiences and values. This came from the findings of a significant disconnect between policy and practice. The need to reserve time for relationship building was similarly highlighted in that there was evidence of the importance of relationship building in terms of breaching the divide between policy and implementation.

Supporting front line staff across multiple services and disciplines to understand the context they work in was another consideration. Do staff understand the issues and the histories of the people they work with? It was recommended that staff need to be assisted in hearing their stories and understanding the context to ensure that they can better appreciate the experiences and behaviours of the people they work with.

With regard to commissioning and funding, Jamie was clear that how programs are commissioned and funded drives particular behaviours. As such, it is essential to establish ways that funding can provide a framework for holistic and integrated service delivery that is built on, meets the needs of, the people using them.

Further information on the Building Connections programme can be found here.