Paradise Works

photo-1024x768Inclusion Cornwall’s “Cornwall Works” works in many places and for many people – a glue which holds various skills and knowledge about people and services together so that bureaucracy is brought to heel and signposting to a better life can be short-circuited. In a bureaucratic world currently in a climate of austerity a new way of doing things can easily make a real difference to people – effectively and fast.

 

The Isles of Scilly nestling 30 miles off Cornwall can often be forgotten when it comes to considering those in need, those in the cold, those unemployed or those looking for a helping hand. Everybody seems to think it’s all about white sandy beaches and palm trees and boat trips on an azure sea; it often is, but not all the time and not for all the people. Especially those who live there all year round. There’s 2000 of them in the winter but maybe 7,000 enjoying the islands in the summer, it’s a mixed bag – don’t let August fool you.

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So when Andrea Gilbert, Bev Wilson and Ellie Moseley from Cornwall Works flew over to check it all out 4 years ago they found all the same stories they had found in Cornwall and certainly that you’d find in seaside communities anywhere; ask the less well off in Torquay or Newquay how easy those places are to live in or to find work in. Those picture postcard houses that look beautiful twinkling in the summer light can feel a tad different in January gales and driving rain on Scilly. Where’s top of the UK league table for damp and cold housing? You guessed it.

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The Cornwall Works team flew over to ensure that the islands would benefit from all the initiatives that the less advantaged on the mainland enjoy. Scilly Works has been at this over 4 years now – a catalytic presence pulling the talents and knowledge and finances of a wide range of projects and agencies together to maximize their ability to work together to help people. Like we said at the start – a glue. And it’s a glue whose stickiness gets better with age – the longer those in the middle of it all work together and gain experience the more they can get things fixed or signpost people on to those who really can help. Like a model T car or a Cuban cigar it all gets better with age!

A while back many in Cornwall were slightly sceptical about what could be achieved until they saw it being achieved. They were won over by real results achieved by Cornwall Works, but it took time. So, imagine an island community coming to grips with that. Wary because those on the mainland don’t understand.

Scilly Works? Silly.

But islander Joel Williams over there enjoyed that visit from the Cornwall Works team and felt it was “timely”, felt he could work with these people and this thinking and extend the team by stepping up to be their man on Scilly. His business card says Senior Officer for Health and Wellbeing and he is but it’s just that he’s added all sorts to that now as he acts almost as a Scilly ambassador for Cornwall Works – he’s made Scilly Works his baby. And that’s the way it works. Somebody steps up to make the “Works” thing work, make it tick, every day for whoever comes knocking.

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Joel chatting to the locals

And of course they all come knocking in different ways. Some just love a one to one with ‘one of them’ like Joel; others feel really uneasy with that – islands are small places. So Joel is indeed like a true ambassador – handles things his own way where that makes sense – and with whom it makes sense – but is quick to recognize where he personally may not be the answer – but can actually be a great big stumbling block. So sometimes he swings into action there and then, other times and with other people he just points them in the direction of all that knowledge over on the mainland. And for some that’s what they want – some arms – length advice from mainland experience, knowledge on the end of the phone line.

So, you need to know the turf even when that turf is spread over 150 rocky outcrops only 5 of them inhabited. And you need to know those inhabitants. A proud community where sitting around waiting for handouts isn’t the norm – a place where people want to work – often holding down more than one job – but where sometimes not too much money comes in and the social problems are the same as anywhere else – problems in paradise.

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Joel is one of the people born and pretty much bred over there apart from a spell getting educated in Cornwall and getting a degree in Business Administration before getting back over there. He worked as an administrator in a small local electrical business that closed down when online ordering became common place.  Had a spell – a very short spell – as an electrician and then joined the local authority over there making things happen for those who needed things to happen.

He knows that Scilly has the same problems of social mobility, poverty, unemployment, winter warmth and simple need as anywhere else and he recognised that he had the intimate knowledge of it all to get stuck in and make a difference. And the more he does the better he gets – you get to know more, you get to know more people, you get to sniff things out and you get to know those on the mainland that can help you make a difference where you are – you need them and they need you – a marriage made in heaven.

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So, working with Andrea and Bev and Ellie in Truro, Scilly Works has already directly affected 70 individuals (and their families of course) on Scilly by providing information on almost anything, unpicking a housing need or discussing concerns around transport. And more recently its championing of the Winter Wellness programme – already established on the mainland – has affected the lives of 28 people through help with winter fuel payments and 16 have been signed up to maybe qualify for the Free Central Heating part of that initiative. What a difference that would make.

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Another “player” that has been brought to the people of Scilly is the Cornwall Rural Community Charity who have been involved in giving advice on getting the best energy tariffs and know their way around IT too, recently de-cluttering one chap’s laptop to make his business and whole life more speedily effective – simple improvements but often we don’t know where to turn.

This is typical of how Scilly Works works – bringing the right people to the table, knowing who to turn to in the first place, joining things up. Before Joel stepped up often things weren’t joined up; no glue see? Citizens Advice Cornwall would fly over when they could (often when weather permitted) but Scilly Works helped developed a stronger relationship and so they visited more often.

Joel with the Cornwall Works team on the mainland made that joined-upness by fixing events – getting all the agencies who can help together with all those that need help. He publicizes that kind of stuff on social media and posters all over the place; they’ve even been on Chris Evans on Breakfast Time on Radio 2. Anything goes. And anyone can come. And the team on the mainland have always tried to be sensitive to the islands needs. That ‘islandness’. They try not to swan in with all the answers, they know that what has worked on the mainland won’t necessarily fit over there and gradually this has borne fruit – listening, being sensitive, bending things to fit. Never parachute in and disappear; they experienced this on the mainland with tricky rural communities too and quickly realised that they needed that sensitivity.

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Oddly sometimes the summer season can be busier for Joel than the winter when seasonal unemployment can, in fact always does, kick in; in the summer he can find himself surrounded by new customers – there are all sorts of temporary and essential workers who need advice – getting the passport sorted, or howsabout learning better English? And in the winter what about the cold and damp, what about the isolation and loneliness that can easily come sliding in like a great fat cobra. A creeping claustrophobia that only life on a small island can really bring on. No escape.

And mental health problems and the booze can creep centre stage too – alcohol is as much a problem here as in any holiday resort; no, not the holiday binge drinking excesses on the streets that we see on TV, more often the solitary bottle behind closed curtains that we’re not meant to see. Problems of paradise.

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So next time you see a sea of crushed diamonds under a sky of powdered sapphires think what it might be like when the sky is glowering ,the visitors have gone and the seasonal money they bring has done a bunk too. (Hope the tourism board aren’t reading this!) But life on Scilly works through the more challenging times nowadays too – no small thanks to Scilly Works – and the Cornwall Works team on the mainland. Working together.