A visit to Wrexham NPS taskforce and community hub
By Steve Willis, Service Co-ordinator, VOICES
Stoke-on-Trent Police recently organised a visit to Wrexham where they have set up a taskforce to address the difficulties faced by the rise in use of Novel Psychoactive Substances. I attended this on behalf of VOICES to find out more about what has been done, it’s effectiveness and what could be learned to help problems with NPS that Stoke-on-Trent is currently experiencing.
18 months ago Wrexham was gaining infamy amongst the national and international press for their ‘Spice’ problem which seemed concentrated in their town centre, most notably around the bus station. Initially the Police had tried to combat the issue by using Public Space Protection Orders resulting in fines for individuals going against the requirements of the order. They found this route to be ineffectual; most individuals did not have the money to pay the fines and instead it served to put them into deeper debt than they already were. Ultimately it had no effect on the behaviour of individuals involved and no clear results for businesses suffering the ill effects of anti-social behaviour. The Police were finding that most of their time was being taken up with this and repeatedly with the same small group of people meaning that other issues within the community were not being handled efficiently.
Due to the extent of the problem, the strain put on the emergency services and A&E a taskforce was created which resulted in development of a community care hub and customer profiling.
The setup of the Care Hub was driven by a local GP who was finding it difficult to help their patients who were using NPS due to their erratic lifestyle, subsequent poor time management and lack of engagement. Every Friday a space provided by The Salvation Army serves as a ‘one stop shop’ for those members of the community who struggle to attend regular appointments and therefore experience barriers to service. By attending at any time on a Friday people can gain instant access to a GP, nurses, Mental Health, Probation, DWP, Housing Providers and Substance Recovery Workers, all in one place, as well as a cup of tea and some toast. If they were to have a benefit issue then one of the two DWP decision makers sited there can offer advice, provide support to set up claims and even overturn previous decisions or sanctions; if a sicknote is needed then the individual only needs to travel across the room to the GP; if they need I.D then this can be provided by one of the other services in the room. There has also been links made with local banks to help those with a lack of I.D. to still be able to open bank accounts. Next they could go see one of the housing providers just a few desks away to make a referral or check in with probation as they may have missed their appointment earlier in the week. Such a set up quickly removes barriers or delays to decisions caused by one service trying to get hold of another. It will also serve to save money, not relying on rigid appointment times means that less people should be found in breach of their probation license and sent to prison; on site physical healthcare means less emergency hospitalisation for neglected wounds or missed prescriptions; more opportunity to engage with services leads to more options and less use of substances or offending behaviour.
As well as the Friday hub there are other drop ins running around town on the other days (at least one drop in every day except Sundays) offering the individuals opportunity to eat, wash and dry clothes, shower and engage in meaningful communication with services. Any engagement is seen as a positive even if it’s a brief chat whilst someone has something to eat and drink. Small interactions will inevitably lead to trust being developed with the services, and this will then open doors which previously may have seemed to be shut due to people not being on time for appointments.
The profiling aspect of the taskforce is, in essence, a shared database about the people accessing services. It contains detailed information about the substances they use, the number of times an ambulance has been called to them, whether they interact with the criminal justice system, their housing situation and benefits status.
This allows each service to work with a person without having to separately gather the information and making people repeat their (potentially upsetting) story.
From all who are profiled, the 20 most vulnerable are identified and specifically targeted for help. This could mean a rapid pathway to detox and rehab without having to comply with the usual procedure which could take up to a year to get through (if all necessary appointments are attended). The usual procedure may work for the majority of people but for those who are arguably most in need of detox and rehab the process can seem impossible, and by targeting the top 20 there is hope that others will see their progress and recognise that change is possible. Some of the original top 20 are now part of peer mentoring programs and are able to be part of the supporting change process.
In terms of Police action, their time is less consumed with enforcement and prosecution and can be focused towards positive engagement with the vulnerable and the wider community. If they are called out to a vulnerable person they are more likely to take them to the Care hub for engagement rather than to the Police station. They do still target those who are committing more serious crime, such as dealing, but they ensure to do it away from the Care hub so that the hub can preserve their ‘all are welcome’ approach.
Community hubs serving as ‘one stop shops’ are not a new model of service provision and most cities across Britain have community hubs serving similar purposes, albeit not always to the same audience as Wrexham’s hub or people accessing the VOICES service. No one would say that the Wrexham taskforce has fully solved the issues they’re facing, there is no easy or quick solution, but all indicators show that things have improved for the whole community.
A main aim of the VOICES project and most other service providers is to engage in cohesive multi-agency work. No service can provide all the answers for people experiencing multiple and complex needs, therefore properly coordinated joint working is imperative, and a community hub style model of provision has the potential to make this easier, not only for the individual in need, but for the services offering the support as well.