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Knaresborough Connectors is a is a community support organisation. They connect residents who are isolated with other residents who are available to support them

This Guide looks at how to use a strengths based approach to talking to people about support they might need. Its ideal for mutual aid groups and may be useful for any local support needs assessment.

Steps to a strength based approach to providing local support 

Asking for help can be hard. One way to help people feel valuable and valued when they are asking for help is to use a strengths based approach.
This means talking to people about what they like and what they are good at when you are talking to them about the help they need.

This approach can help remove some of the barriers to asking for help. Good reasons to use it include:

  • You’re worried people might feel like there are others 'worse off than them' so they don’t deserve help

  • You’re worried people might feel they are a burden on others

  • You want to create a sense of community, and mutual aid.

During the coronavirus pandemic Knaresborough Connectors wanted to reduce loneliness and isolation. They also wanted to maintain a sense of community. They matched residents to provide a range of services including:

  • Shopping

  • Urgent supplies like prescriptions

  • Support with hobbies

  • Helping with pets

  • Posting mail

  • Friendly phone calls

From the start they encouraged their community to 'focus on what’s strong, not what’s wrong'. They believe that residents looking for support can help their community just like the volunteers. They do this by utilising the skills and interests of their community to support one another. For example, someone in self isolation can give back to the community by knitting for families in their neighbourhood.

The best way to offer a strengths based approach is to have a conversation with the person who is looking for support. This could be a video call, phone call or chat based conversation. It doesn’t work well with just a form.

People will need a way to let you know they are interested, so that you can set up that conversation. You could encourage them to contact you in several ways, including:

  • Leaving a voicemail

  • Sending an email

  • Following a QR code or a link to a webform

  • By message on any social media

Knaresborough Connectors invited people to contact them by webform, email or telephone. They also have an active Facebook group, but they found that people don’t feel comfortable asking for support in a group.

They also set up a method for the local council to let them know about people in need of support.

They received most enquiries by voicemail.

Their co-ordinators called people back. They carried out strengths based conversations with people needing support. They did this from their personal phones.

They also used this phone call to check how safe people were. They were checking for:

  1. signs of distress in tone of voice, or background noise that suggested potential harm
  2. people being unable to explain either what they enjoy, or what they need.

Either of these could suggest they might need referring for more support.

You need to gain 3 pieces of information from the conversation

  1. Where the person is

  2. The things they like and feel they can do

  3. The things they need

It is good to set up a system for keeping track of these pieces of information. You are collecting personal data from the people you are going to help. You need to keep it safe, and in accordance with data protection law.

This means you need to:

  • Make sure that the person understands why you have recorded it and how you will use it

  • Know where it is stored, and understand the risks of that storage

  • Know how to delete it and have a plan for deleting it if you don’t need it or if the person asks you to

  • Take care who you share it with.

For more on data protection see NCVO’s guide.

Knaresborough Connectors note down the information from their conversations into a Google Sheet. It is shared between a small number of administrators and coordinators.

The Google Sheet is connected to an online Google Map. This map has privacy settings so only coordinators can see it. It has many layers - so that a coordinator can look at different things at different times. This helps with the matching process.

The coordinators use the sheet and map to match the person with a volunteer. Each volunteer is only given the information they need to know about the person they are going to support.

To make full use of the strengths based approach you need to focus on how you match people.

You will often need to match people and volunteers more than once. Perhaps a person has other needs than their first volunteer can't support. Or the volunteer might be able to offer other types of support that others need. 

Sometimes people will be able to contribute to group projects rather than offer individual support.

Once you have made your matches, its a good idea to have a system that enables everyone to give feedback on how things are going. This will help you spot problems and find solutions.

There are many safeguarding considerations to think about during matching. Learn about these in Knaresborough Connectors Guide: Recruiting volunteers using Google Forms.

Knaresborough Connectors maintains a strengths based approach going through its matching. Volunteers can be matched on interests, hobbies or errands needed. They are also matched by location.

Matching people locally supports safety. If volunteers are seen supporting someone in their area they are less likely to act dishonestly.

Further information

Interested in other guides from mutual aid or community support groups?

Want to know more about Knaresborough Connectors work?