A Lighthouse for Europe?

The debate about what really constitutes care and inclusion for us all, and especially our fellow citizens with learning disabilities and/or autism, comes to Cheltenham Spa on the 6th – 8th September 2023 when LivesthroughFriends, in association with The Butterfly Garden, hosts this year’s EASPD (European Association of Providers of Services for People with a Disability) ‘Lighthouse’ activity. Colleagues from Moldova, Malta, Greece, Belgium, Spain and Ukraine, who share their hosts’ commitment to support and enable good contributing and included lives, will spend three days together exploring what it takes to deliver these outcomes despite the adverse cultural and system conditions in which they practice. LivesthroughFriends’ longstanding associates – PLAN (Planned Lifetime Advocacy Networks) from Canada and PETAGMA, Athens, Greece – will also be sharing their learning.

The organisers have been explicit throughout the event’s gestation that this ‘Lighthouse’ event is not about “selling a model”. The hosts are in no doubt that the approaches they seek to practice in their home jurisdictions may not always appropriate nor practicable in other domains. That being said, it can be said that our hosts are absolutely ‘evangelistic’ regarding the purposes, values and principles that they all hold dear.

We are all of a mind that the last three decades – as transactional approaches to public services in much of the world have commodified services and promoted a passive, consumerism – have been in large part a failed, ideologically driven experiment, wherein the very nature of interdependent humanity was devalued and undermined. We don’t assert this because we’ve ‘studied’ it; we have lived it. In the UK, some of us were practicing throughout the Seebohm, and Barclay debates where:

“The majority of committee members supported the third approach, highlighting the value of community social work. They called for more emphasis on community engagement, and a new role for social workers as broker of resources, working with informal carers and voluntary organisations to support individual service users as citizens.” (Social Workers: Their Roles & Tasks – The Barclay Report. 1982)

This conclusion was not a radical new idea. It derived from the evidence that the locally (patch) based, relationally focused, community social work that had evolved to be widely practiced throughout social services departments in the UK was both the most sustainable and societally healthy way forward.

So, for us, there should be nothing new in a resurgence in interest in democracy, localism, and relational / community focused professional practice. It would simply be a resurfacing of the ‘natural order’. However, for the hegemony to shift, it seems to us that it will be necessary to acknowledge and dismantle the system conditions that are foundational to the transactional culture of the past 3 decades. And, in order for that ideological transition to evolve, it will be necessary to stimulate a different public debate.

We have previously given a lot of thought to how that high profile societal conversation might be framed – https://livesthroughfriends.org/rewilding-care-a-banner-for-reform/ .

Bob Rhodes

July 2023.