Jim Thomas, Programme Head of Workforce Innovation at Skills for Care explains how asking “tell me what you know and what you can do” can help us address loneliness in our communities.

Regardless of our age we all have knowledge skills and experience to offer to each other in our local neighbourhoods. It is often the issue that we don’t know about each other’s skills, knowledge and experience and how to best tap into that local expertise.

One way to tackle loneliness is to understand the skills that people have to offer to their local community, and what skills are required to enable people who are lonely to have the confidence to become a part of their neighbourhood.

As the sector skills council for adult social care in England, Skills for Care is in a unique position to explore and share learning around skills led approaches to community capacity building, and the impact such an approach can have on loneliness.

About two years ago Skills for Care asked the question:

“If people in their local neighbourhood had a better understanding of the skills that exist in their local neighbourhood and how to share those skills or enhance them – would it be easier for people in that community to support more vulnerable people in that community?”

In order to test this idea out Skills for Care examined the evidence in ‘Only a Footstep Away’ and set up a number of small test sites to explore the practical development of two concepts: ‘neighbourhood workforce planning’ and ‘community skills development.’

Whilst loneliness wasn’t central to the development of this work programme, it became evident that the shared-skills approach can have an significant impact on loneliness. Our test sites have shown that it doesn’t take a significant level of resource investment to make a difference – what is important is how people are supported to understand and share skills, and how they are enabled to make their work sustainable.

For example, we have worked with small residents associations to help them map the skills that exist within their local community and then share them informally. We have worked with statutory organisations to link the idea of ‘time banks’ to the idea of ‘skills banks’ and enable people not only to share skills, but also to look at how they can mentor each other back into the workplace.

We have seen how a skills led approach can reignite an individual’s confidence in what they have to offer their local community, and bring that person out of isolation and back into active participation with their neighbours.

The driver at all times in our work has been skills and skill development in a community context. Whilst the language of skills may not come naturally to everyone, if you can find the language that enables people to tell you what they are good at, and what they could do with it, you can start to find ways to show them how – at any age – they have something to contribute.

By putting skills at the centre of our approach to community capacity building we believe we can demonstrate how neighbourhoods can improve their ability to support each other. There is no reason why such an approach could also not have a part to play in tackling loneliness.

After all a person who is lonely is not bereft of skills. They may not believe that the skills that they have acquired through age and experience are of any value in the modern world. Yet with the right coaching and mentoring, and understanding of workforce development, skills led approaches to tackling loneliness can have their place alongside other initiatives.

By adding a single question into a conversation, you can begin to understand the possibilities of skills led approach:

“Tell me what you know and what you can do.”

Our knowledge and our practical capacity to use that knowledge makes us who we are. Skills led approaches draw on the fact that everybody has the capacity to learn something and to teach something as well. As part of policy, strategy and practical implementation required to meet the challenges of loneliness, we can add workforce development to our thinking.

After all in any organisation, any network or any system, it is people who make things happen and by supporting people to acquire the skills they need to make things happen, and to value the skills they already have, we can begin to tackle loneliness