Wednesday, 16 May 2012

In which I enter the Twittersphere

Yesterday I sent my first tweet and entered the twittersphere, or the twitiverse, or is it the tworld? Is this now a modern rite of passage? Baby’s first smile, word, step, email, tweet. But if you are interested you could follow me on @david_ellis  

Blogged previously about the visit from students from Switzerland, great to get some feedback from them today including this little gem, which I think is worth sharing...

“It was inspiring to see how people believing in their work can make a huge difference even in times of budget cuts and limited resources. A wonderful example of what can be done in the field of social services! Thank you for showing us part of what Local Solutions has set up in Liverpool. The entire week was filled with cordially welcoming people always ready to make the next joke! Switzerland could sometimes use a bit of the outgoing Liverpudlian mindset!”

Monday, 7 May 2012

An organisation that says 'yes'

Pleased to welcome a group of students from Lucerne and Zurich, Switzerland around Local Solutions. The Master students are in Liverpool for five days and are with us to see how charities are meeting the needs of people. The group are wonderful guests, polite, interested and seem very interested in our work.

Local Solutions tends to be an organisation that says ‘yes’ to such opportunities for a cross-cultural exchange. In the last two years we have welcomed groups from the USA, Japan, Belgium, Malawi and now Switzerland. The Swiss visit creates some serious reflection; their country is, by our standards, pretty rich, and scores beats the UK in all the measures of wealth, standards of living and has seemingly very low unemployment and social deprivation.

As we tour around our programmes to support young homeless people and services for those affected by domestic abuse, the questions flow both ways. The students inform us that they have similar social issues such as homelessness and degrees of state intervention and welfare to alleviate those who are struggling, but it is evident that those requiring help form a very small minority of the general population. It is difficult to put into a few words why we seem to face so many issues and the words ‘inter-generational’ keep coming to mind. So we go on, trying to break those cycles.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Technology & Time

Occasionally my role takes me overnight to some exotic locations – yesterday it was Birmingham, jewel of the West Midlands. Stayed in a recently opened hotel, which had decided to go as high-tech as possible. The first obstacle to overcome is check-in, I must of appeared bemused in search of a reception desk, when I was kindly and gently informed by a member of staff that, basically, that front desks are practically luddite and they had a new system of self-generated check-in. The impeccable staff member took me through the simplified process that promptly failed to work – twice. It became quickly apparent that all the hotel team must had been on a recent and comprehensive ‘customer service’ course and over-attentiveness was the name of the game. After finally overcoming check-in I asked where the lift was, instead of directing me I am accompanied to the lift which was about 30 feet away, I then receive more help when the staff member pressed the button to call the lift. I was glad that I was left alone to move myself into the lift and managed to negotiate pressing Button 4 all on my own, which filled me with some sense of pride and achievement.

Following a meeting with one of our funders, there was a half an hour to explore Birmingham’s premier shopping arcade – the Bullring – a building that is significantly more impressive on the outside than in. Popping into Selfridges I saw two concessions of note, firstly Primark proudly stood in the midst of its designer competitors and secondly a body piercing / tattoo studio – all very convenient for the busy man and woman about town.

The meeting time allowed us to have a chance to chat through plans we have at Local Solutions for a consultation event in September to consider our work in Intense Mentoring. This project supports young people who are hardest to engage and have been within the temporary homeless system for a significant amount of time. Intense mentoring supports these individuals and is having a transformational effect. Our consultation will hopefully be bringing together workers, academics and funders to assess the work we have done so far and see whether this model could be replicated elsewhere.

On the train back, a guy from one of the big banks, sits adjacent. He spends the 81 minutes yapping on his phone to, from what I can gather, anyone in any office within the company to ‘touch base’ and discuss vague future plans. The art of sitting and just staring out of the window is dying, nearly dead.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

1 in 5 are not 9 to 5

Going to show my age now, but when I was a lad, I remember UB40’s big hit ‘One in Ten’ which set out a clear message and raised awareness about the scourge of unemployment in the early 1980s. The ‘one in ten’ was a reference to the number of people out of work at the time. This song may seem a little tame by today’s standards but in those seemingly more politically charged days, when music and politics seemed more closely aligned, it was an awareness raising moment for many.

A few colleagues from Local Solutions have been at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool this week due to us providing the Shopmobility service at the event for people with mobility restrictions. This opportunity has allowed us to get to some of the debates and discussions and at the ones I have attended one point has been repeated time and time again – that the Futures Jobs Fund was a fantastic initiative for helping young people back into work. Of course, this was a Labour programme so they would say that wouldn’t they. However, sometimes the passion behind the rhetoric is telling. The Future Jobs Fund provided a six-moth paid work placement for unemployed young people. Local Solutions was a principal provider on Merseyside, 600 young people accessed this initiative through us gaining skills and qualifications and developing their capacities and readiness for work. Over 150 young people secured full time employment through their participation. Some of our current crop of young employees were recruited through the scheme and continue to be a credit to our organisation.

The Future Jobs Fund has now finished but not because the problem has gone. In fact the youth unemployment statistics are startling. In April to July 2011 the Office of National Statistics states that there were 973,000 unemployed young people in the UK. This is 1 in 5 of that population. I’ll repeat that - 1 in 5. Of those, 35,000 young people have been out of work for more that one year – there are real concerns of yet another lost generation.

Of course there are no simple answers, no magic wand. Local Solutions will start to deliver the new Government Work Programme in October, a new initiative to support people to re-enter the workplace. I hope that this is a real success but know that it will be delivered in the context of a rather gloomy economic outlook. However, our employment advisors are a bunch of very talented and dedicated people with a wealth of experience of delivering these types of programmes so I am confident that whatever the challenges there will be success stories to follow.

I hope that things will start to turn around soon for young people but we need to maintain awareness of this huge issue. I don’t expect this year’s X-Factor’s winners Christmas single will be entitled ‘One in Five’ but I can always live in hope.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Scooters & sound advice

Local Solutions is proud to be at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool this week to provide electric scooters and wheelchairs for delegates with mobility problems to access the conference. This service is being provided through our Shopmobility scheme. The Conference space is huge and there are meetings going on in a range of locations, it’s hard work getting around.

I have spoken to a number of people using our scooters who were all delighted at the service on offer and how accessible the conference was with our support. In one particular chat with two lovely ladies who were using our service and knew Local Solutions, I got asked a question by one about the future of disability benefits, as I began to look slightly blank her friend said, “Well he won’t know, he’s one of the managers”. This was slightly harsh I remarked, but ultimately fair, I didn’t know, but I knew someone who would – our welfare benefits team.

There is clearly real anxiety about the Government’s changes to the benefits system and some real anger too. When there are these fears people need good, impartial advice and we are delighted to offer that service.

If you require any help with Benefits Advice you can call 0151 705 2365 or 0151 705 2383 and speak to one of our Welfare Rights Service who will arrange an appointment. All calls and advice is confidential.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Fuel for thought...

A beautiful day today, sun is shining down on Liverpool, and set to last all week, a true Indian summer period for us all. Newspapers always get very excited about unseasonably good weather – with their usual fare of ‘Britain hotter than....(insert Tenerife, or Athens, or Dubai wherever is the most exotic place one degree chillier than the UK).

The warm weather means that for many households a brief respite before that ‘big decision’ that arrives at this time of year - “should we or shouldn’t we switch the heating on?” It seems such a simple thing to turn the switch, reacquaint yourself with the thermostat control and fire up the boiler for the first time in months. So, why do we put it off, because we know, that’s why, we know that once the psychological barrier is broken, once we begin to use it , it will be on again, then again, all the way through autumn and winter.

I’ll admit that last week we succumbed, we wimped out, feel a bit guilty for not remaining resolute for longer, ‘layering up’ with jumpers for a few more weeks, taking a more stoic line. It was only for an hour after all, just to take the chill off, however the seeds are sown, once this week is out and we return to more typical autumnal weather I know that the first signs of cold and it’s going on again.

A good reason for withholding the day is the increasing cost of just heating your home. Very few people can have escaped the constant headlines as, one-by-one, the utility companies announce rises in the price of gas and electricity. This is putting real pressure on people in an already difficult time. Unfortunately for so many people living in our communities the basic need to heat a home continues to be a real issue.

A household is said to be in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10% of its income on fuel to maintain a satisfactory heating regime. The statistics for people living in fuel poverty are staggering, in 2009, the number of fuel poor households in the UK was estimated at around 5.5 million. At Local Solutions we are trying to do our bit to alleviate this problem through a new Fuel Debt advice service which has been funded through the British Gas Energy Trust. The service provides free information and support to people who may be suffering from fuel debt and hardship, or struggling to pay their fuel bills. Our qualified team is at hand to support individuals and families with:

 · Dealing with fuel debt
 · Applications for grants
 · Bill queries
 · Understanding and managing your bill
 · Switching suppliers

We also work with groups and organisations that support people who are at risk of or are in fuel debt. We can offer advice to front line workers on the following subjects:

 · Understanding fuel poverty
 · How to recognise fuel poverty
 · How to deal with fuel poverty
 · Energy efficiency measures
 · How to refer people to our service

If you wish to find out more or to make an appointment then contact the team – Julie and Laura on 0151 705 2382 or email