The pace of technological change never ceases to amaze me. Meetings that used to attract people from all over the world to a single location are replaced by Skype conferences and, in the near future, most likely, by virtual meetings based on holographic communication. Smart phones, smart watches, iPad’s and tablets speed up communication, making the whole world more accessible and provide instant access to information, facts and opinions. Virtual reality hubs can take donors into a classroom in rural Ghana without having to leave the comfort of their own home.

Whilst I wholeheartedly support technological advancement; my challenge is seeing how we can ensure that it doesn’t replace the vital importance of people and place.

The rise of people and place

Initiatives such as the Campaign to end Loneliness have raised the profile of the significant negative impact that loneliness has on health: it increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%; its impact is equal to someone smoking 15 cigarettes a day; and lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia. And these statistics are set to increase, as more people live for longer.  I acknowledge that there are many causes of loneliness, but I cannot help but think it was somehow ‘better’ in my grandparents’ day when they lived in a community with people who looked out for each other, who created that local support network that is so vital in combatting loneliness and isolation.

At the other end of the age spectrum we see a growing disenfranchisement amongst young people and a rise in youth-related violence in some parts of the country. And when asked about it they say they don’t fit in or have a support network to rely on. Family breakdown, multiple caring responsibilities and the long-hours culture all contribute to there being less connectivity within families and the importance of people and place is, in some way, diminished. It reminds me of the African proverb—it takes a village to raise a child—where family, neighbours and friends all understand the important role they have in shared parenting.

Young or old, we all live somewhere and that means that we are all part of a local community and that community is made up of people. And if we are ever going to create positive and lasting change in the areas that need it most, we need to harness the passions, skills and talents of these people.

I am delighted to see the rise in importance of people and place. Whether it’s the Big Society of central government, the cries for more devolution from local government, or the left-shift approach from the NHS. Public sector partners are embracing the importance of local, the place where people live, and the assets that they provide. Yet this is something that the social sector has always been aware of through its work on a myriad of issues, in different geographies and in so many ways. Just as Heineken’s advert purports it ‘refreshes parts that other beers cannot reach’ so, too, the social sector refreshes parts of the community that other agencies just cannot reach and it has been doing this for decades.

Creating lasting change

We can talk all day about strategic developments, integrated health care and macro-economics but until we can solve these basic social needs we cannot help to create effective change in local communities. If we cannot create effective change at this level, there is nothing for us to build on.

What attracted me to become a trustee of NPC is the focus of the new strategy, on people and place and a commitment to sharing best practice so that communities, can share and learn together.  And at the same time, focus on digital technology to ensure that it provides better support, for more people. I look forward to being a part of this.

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