In the New Paths to InclUsion Network, 19 organisations from 13 European countries and Canada work together to strengthen their person centred planning capacities and to deliver a more individualised and person centred support which would be embedded in the community (www.personcentredplanning.eu). The leading question is: “How can we make sure that support services respond to the individual needs of persons with disabilities and empower them to take part in the community?”
To get a deeper understanding of what it takes to make community inclusion work, we have been collecting good practices from across Europe. We have chosen three of them for so-called ‘sensing journeys’. Sensing journeys are designed to experience the system through the lens of different stakeholders. Together with other users, the participants undertake small journeys to different places in that system. We took a series of immersion, listening, inquiry and dialogue activities to explore how inclusive activities in the community are working. We were searching for ideas that could catalyse profound change in the system towards inclusion. Could we extract some ingredients that are needed to create inclusion in the community?
Our first sensing journey brought us on 12-13 November 2013 to Hamburg in Germany. We started our morning with breakfast in the Stadthaus-Hotel, an inclusive accessible hotel where people with and without intellectual disabilities have been working for over twenty years. We realised how important it is to have friendly and accessible places in the community where guests are welcomed (http://www.stadthaushotel.de/en/).
The next project ‘Auf Achse’ (On the road) from Leben mit Behinderung Hamburg brought us to the office of Detlef Scheele, the Minister for Work, Social Affairs, Families and Integration in Hamburg. Once a week on Tuesdays, his team is supported by three people with significant abilities and their job coaches to prepare the table for weekly minister meetings. What is unusual about this small supported employment project is the target group. It engages people with very high support needs who have not had a chance to demonstrate their capabilities, not even in a sheltered workshop. They participate in various day-activity centres in Hamburg together with other 70 persons and they work all over the city in 38 companies. They start small, working once a week for a couple of hours, but it makes a big difference in their quality of life and in the perceptions of their co-workers and in the whole service system alike. The project redirected the view and the energy of the organisation towards opportunities in the community and they found more than they expected. It needs professionals who are allowed to be brave and who are able knock on doors to open them. The project changed and challenged perceptions of what is possible for people with high support needs who were not seen as capable of work. Work is possible and it is much more possible than we thought. The barrier to more hours in the community was interestingly not the lack of opportunities but the limitation of staff time and organisational resources.
Our next stop was the Freiwilligenagentur Nord, which is a volunteer agency established in many parts of Hamburg. The agency providers people with information on the variety of possibilities to volunteer in the community. The interesting point is to include people with disabilities or migrants also as volunteers who can contribute to their community and not only as a target group for voluntary work. People are willing to spend their time volunteering, but they want meaningful, interesting and valued work that matches their interests, time and abilities. A key to successful voluntary work seems to be a good culture of appreciation that goes beyond sending Christmas cards at the end of the year.
One of the interesting projects volunteers can engage with in Hamburg is the ‘Hamburger Kulturschlüssel’ (a cultural key to Hamburg). The idea is quite simple – a theatre, a concert hall, a museum or a sports club gives at least two tickets for free to the organisation, five weeks before the event. The organisation matches people with support needs and low income, the so-called “Kulturgenießer” (cultural connoisseur), with a volunteer who acts as a cultural companion. They spend an evening together for free, based on the same interests. There is an introduction for people interested in participating in this project twice a year. The idea is to have the opportunity for cultural participation at least once a month. Last year, 2.500 tickets from 65 cultural organisations were given to 250 cultural connoisseurs and 100 cultural companions. The users were older people, people with disabilities, migrants, and young people with low income, both as cultural connoisseurs and cultural companions. An idea like this is simple, but the matching process is complex. You need a good structure, rules, and charming engagement to make it happen. We bought some tickets and joined a group in Schmitz Tivoli and had a wonderful evening together.
We spent the next morning in an inclusive school, the Bugenhagen Schulen, a private protestant school which used to be the school of an institution in the past. Now it is a very popular inclusive private school. About 22 kids learn together, in mixed-age classes (grades 1-3,4-6,7-9), supported by a team of teachers and educators. We found a school with an open and welcoming atmosphere, where kids and teachers really like to be. Very clear rituals and structure seem to give room for different learning activities in the whole group, in small groups and in the self-study time. There was a lot of movement and exercises, and long breaks in between, followed by intensive working time. We have seen kids taking care of each other and explaining each other what they have learned. Not only the kids like to learn and to work in teams, it seemed that it was also true for the teachers and educators. Maybe that is another key to inclusion.
Our last excursion brought us to Q8, a community development project of the Ev. Stiftung Alsterdorf. Alsterdorf used to be a big institution for people with disabilities in Hamburg. During the Nazi time, over 600 inmates were deported and killed, only 50 people survived. After the World War, the number of residents in the institution grew to over 1.200 people. In the Mid 1970´s the institutionalized living conditions were made public and caused a big public embarrassment. The situation was beginning to change significantly in the 1980s, but it took up until 2001 to open up the institution. The centre of the institution has been replaced by a public market place, a restaurant and a shopping centre. Over 1.800 former residents are now living all over the city.
Alsterdorf invests strategically in six quarters of the town. A community organiser facilitates projects in the communities. In the first phase, they get to know key persons and analysed the situations in the quarters. In the second phase, they brought people together to develop ideas on what was needed in the quarter, and in the third phase they implemented inclusive projects. For example, they organised a forum, ‘Mitten in Altona’ (In the middle of Altona), with citizens and organisations creating ideas on how a new part of the city, built on former railway tracks, could become an attractive, accessible and inclusive quarter for everyone. Together with 20 other organisations they developed 'altonavi', a one-stop centre where citizens can get an overview of all social services and counselling opportunities in the quarter. It also serves as a local voluntary agency. Q8 shows that when organisations want to achieve community inclusion, they not only need to invest in buildings but also in quarters and communities. You also need someone like a community organiser who cares and connects people.
We need to find and create interesting places in the community, where people can bring their personal contribution. Gerald Hüther, a famous German neurobiologist, recently published a book called ‘communal intelligence’ where he states that we need a new culture of relationships. We need a culture where everybody feels that his abilities are needed, so that we can connect, learn from each other and grow together. Beth Mount, a pioneer of person centred planning who joined us in our learning journey, said that the field is as fertile as the connection between people. Maybe that is a good hint to what we need to let inclusion grow.