The Wise Group welcomes the opportunity to be part of the conversation about our changing and renewed society; we believe that our work offers highly valuable insight into some of society’s most significant social and economic challenges.
The Wise Group is a leading social enterprise, working to lift people out of poverty across Scotland and North East England. Every day we support our customers into jobs, work to lift people out of fuel poverty, and help people coming out of prison to build a better future. We work with a range of partners across all sections of society to make a real and lasting difference to the lives of thousands of people and families every year.
We believe that COVID-19 has created an increasingly complex poverty challenge in Scotland.
Our work with individuals, communities and businesses has proven that mentoring provides the best results in lifting people out of poverty. Without this dedicated mentoring support our attempts to address this increasingly complex picture will not have the impact that is needed. As we move forward, we would like to see more emphasis given to mentoring approaches which provide the glue between individuals, communities and the services they need.
More broadly, through our customer insight and experience in delivering services, we believe that there are three foundations we need to lay as we transition through this period –
- Using technology as an enabler
- Forming strategic partnerships
- Putting flexibility at the heart of programmes
And as we continue to tackle an increasingly complex poverty challenge, and enter a period of recovery towards a renewed society we must –
- Rethink our approach to Community
- Put wellbeing at the heart of our strategies
Using technology as an enabler
In April 2019 we launched a new strategy for how we will focus our efforts on lifting people out of poverty. One of the key guiding principles of this was ensuring that technology was an enabler. Through sustained investment this put in place both resilience and capacity to work in a more agile, dynamic and digital fashion. With the onset of the COVID 19 restrictions and the impact on both our enterprise and the customers whom we support, this has shown itself to be invaluable and has allowed us to not only continue to deliver strong support for all of our customers, but also to adapt and change our delivery so it is relevant to the evolving needs of these customers as they present themselves.
Forming strategic partnerships
As we have continued to transition through CVOID-19 we have been successful in building strategic partnerships which have allowed us to use our capability and capacity to be a key part of the wider national response effort to COVID 19. These are just a few examples of how we have used our capability and capacity to support the national effort to respond to the COVID 19 outbreak. We remain engaged and committed to using our position to ensure the greatest level of support goes to those who need it and remain committed to ‘the art of the possible’ –
- Supporting Charities looking after the most vulnerable Our advice and provision of technical capability to Age Scotland has allowed them to mobilise a national helpline response and be the go-to gateway for support and information for the elderly in Scotland in relation to COVID 19.
- Partnering with Local Authorities We are playing an active role in the shielding calls for a number of local authorities to ensure that people are supported throughout this difficult time.
- Enhancing the Justice system Through our ongoing partnership with the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), and our investment in technology, we have been able to provide a rapid response in preparation for the early release of prisoners. Our national prisoner rehabilitation programme, New Routes Mentoring, has to date engaged with 60% of prisoners with less than 6 months left on their sentence and who are eligible for early release under COVID-19 legislation. This will provide support to prisoners returning to a changed and vulnerable landscape and has demonstrated that face to face contact is not the only way to engage with this vulnerable group.
- Digital This area has undoubtedly been the most challenging for our customers and thus for some of our service provision. For those living in poverty (and that landscape is changing rapidly in the backdrop of COVID-19) access to the equipment (laptops or tablets), connection to broadband and skills needed to use these materials are currently ‘digital black holes’ in some parts of Scotland.
We welcome the recent ‘Connecting Scotland’ announcement, note that there is an initial focus on those in high risk health groups and urge that ambitions in this area seek to reach the hardest to reach customers who are long-term unemployed or with experience in the justice system for example.
Putting flexibility at the heart of our existing programmes
The Wise Group delivers Programmes on behalf of a range of organisations and sectors. Since the onset of the crisis we have maintained a proactive approach to our Programme Partnerships, identifying new and more efficient ways of delivering our programmes over time. We remain committed to harnessing the lessons we have learned to support societal and economic recovery in the context of a new and altered customer base –
- Employability Programmes Many employability programmes such as Fair Start Scotland were originally targeted at the ‘vulnerable’ or ‘marginalised’. We now need to consider how programmes such as these can provide support to those recently made redundant and also the new youth unemployed. It will be important to learn the lessons of programme flexibility and adaptability of the last month to ensure that our national employability programmes remain relevant to the new social and economic norms and that where necessary we deliver new solutions for new groups in need of support.
We welcome existing discussions to explore this and seek to collaborate urgently to create evidence led, needs based employability support that seeks to contribute to fuelling a renewed society.
- Fuel Poverty We are the largest delivery organisation of in-home advice and advocacy for fuel poverty support in Scotland. As the restrictions have been put in place, we have adapted our services as required to building remote support, utilising technology and wider engagement tools to continue helping people.
To contend with the geographical scale and changing face of fuel poverty we believe the extension of existing successful services is needed to cover pockets of Scotland where no in depth fuel poverty services are delivered. In addition there remains a huge opportunity for Scotland to put in place a universal and simplistic approach to customers who cannot access a shop or inline tool to update prepayment meters. We have already worked with partners to develop a model that could pride universal and simple access for this customer group, including throughout rural locations. On a wider view of this, we see there to be a significant need to work collaboratively with the energy suppliers to find other ways of these customers to pay for their fuel.
Technology will remain central to any innovations we design or collaborate in as the Wise Group plays its part in navigating the Recovery period. Where we have seen positive transformation, we have been able to leverage existing technological investment and be in a position to support a changing landscape proactively. Going forward this investment, coupled with customer insight will prove pivotal in helping us pave the way to a renewed society.
In addition our work with individuals, communities and businesses has proven that mentoring provides the best results in lifting people out of poverty. Without this dedicated support our attempts to address the increasingly complex poverty landscape will not have the impact that is needed. We would like to see more emphasis given to mentoring which provides the glue between individuals, communities and the services they need.
Our early thinking on this includes new approaches to Communities and putting Wellbeing at the centre of what we do. We have outlined two examples below and would welcome the opportunity to explore these further with Scottish Government and others.
Rethinking our approach to community
We have long been of the view that a different approach to local economies is needed. Our work focuses on supporting the most vulnerable in society who are left behind, even during periods economic and social development. We see this as an excellent opportunity to reset this approach and find new and inclusive ways of building opportunities and prosperity. We are advocates of the Community Wealth Building approach that has been proven successful in areas such as Preston. We are also extremely encouraged to see leaders like North Ayrshire Council taking this significant step to adopt the approach. We know that this will lead to a level of local wealth and opportunity that could not exist within the previous economic models. Approaches like this bring with them equality and opportunity for everyone, something which we are very much in favour of supporting.
Putting Wellbeing at the heart of our strategies
The Wise Group’s Re-Connect CBT service provides rapid access, free of charge counselling to our customers and colleagues. The service was borne from the idea that our customers within the justice system could access a counsellor on release from prison at no cost to themselves and as soon as possible. After someone is liberated from prison, the first 48 hours are crucial when tackling re-offending. The mentor engaging with those released linking them into the necessary services helps prevent them returning to prison, and counselling goes hand in hand with this.
Expanding on this work we have developed a programme that provides immediate support for people with increased mental wellbeing requirements as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic by delivering Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) group sessions remotely and securely to over 500 individuals in the Scottish Social Care system.
Using video/audio conferencing technology, we will provide a self-care toolkit to minimise escalation of mental ill health, improve wellbeing and reduce the impact of isolation for this customer group resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.
CBT is a proven clinical intervention for mental wellbeing which provides individuals with a functional toolkit of self-care techniques that can be used to manage anger, depression, anxiety, and grief.