In 2009, Gateshead Council leased the empty Edberts House to a local charity to enable them to support their local tenants more effectively. At the time, the area had the highest anti-social behaviour rates in the borough, and a lot of nearby houses were boarded up.
Having realised the community had informally been using the building for years, the charity and council asked local people what they wanted to run as services and activities. Women asked for an on-site creche while they took maths qualifications to get back into work, one of the first and many examples of community-led services. Since then, Edberts House has turned into a thriving community hub and has helped turn the area into a thriving neighbourhood.
“We have a fundamental need for connections as they shape our identity. But many people have lost those connections. They might have lost their job, their children, their home…we create a space where people can make new connections and revive their identity.”
In 2017, Edberts House applied to Power to Change’s Bright Ideas Fund to help them develop new income streams. We awarded them £20,000 to pay for business consultancy, finance support and a member of Gateshead Council’s staff one day a week to work with them. They explored the development of Pattinson Pizza – an on-site fresh pizza business – which has now added take away Sunday dinners to the menu. And they also explored the idea of dredging wood waste from the nearby River Tyne to set up a wood recycling service but the logistics were too complex to make it viable.
However, they had already piloted a social prescribing service, a follow on from the Community Organisers programme, to reduce the amount of people going to local GPs unnecessarily. It was trialled in one practice initially, where the Community Link Worker became an embedded part of the GP team. GPs could directly refer a patient to them to discuss issues going on in their life – such as having benefits stopped, struggling with housing or relationships, or losing their job – which were leading to health issues.
“Community Link Workers are best placed to ask ‘what matters to you’ than a GP and can signpost people to practical ways of improving their life.” Stephen Ward, Gateshead Council
The Community Link Workers bring their community development experience and match it with the clinical expertise of GPs to provide a more holistic service to patients. The project quickly scaled up to 4 local practices, who were all keen to experience the benefits of this new, holistic approach.
Having proved how effective the service was at reducing unnecessary visits to GPs, in October 2018, Power to Change awarded Edberts House £60,537 health and social care development grant to expand the Community Link Workers programme into a further 5 GP surgeries. This target, however has already been exceeded, as they are now operating in 13 surgeries, and are set to sign contracts to cover the whole Borough – 30 surgeries in all. The contracts with the GPs are a source of sustainable unrestricted funding for Edberts House, as they charge a management fee to deliver the service which is reinvested into core salaries within the organisation, allowing valuable community activity to be delivered through their community hubs.
“I receive patient cases from GPs. Then I contact the patient, let them know I’m a Community Link Worker and organise a meeting with them. Then I find out what they need help with. It might be filling out a benefit form, it might be they are lonely and need someone to go with them to a community group a few times until they make friends. I am there for them as long as they need me.”
How did they do it?
The strong partnership between management at Edberts House and the Council has really driven a community-led approach, which allows the hub to respond to changing needs of their community. They are now working on a new hub in Beacon Lough, one of the most deprived areas of Gateshead, to bring all public services under one roof, driven by the community to make it easier for people to access the services they need.