Finding Local Information

We take a look at some good ways of finding information on services and support in your area.

One of the hit-and-miss aspects of finding information is knowing that something exists, in order to search it out.  It is possible to miss out, at least for a while, on services, opportunities, equipment etc. because their existence has not yet come to light.  This article points to sources of information that either list what is available or lead to contacts with local people who will know.

Finding public services

Many city, county and district councils split what they publish, between visitors’ and residents’ information. A family with a child who has additional needs might want to consult both kinds, whether that is just for a visit or to put things in place for a new situation / area; broadly speaking, for both leisure / local highlights / informal activities and statutory / community services. https://www.gov.uk/find-your-local-council will find the contact details for a local authority in a county or city, however it can be overlooked that there are different kinds of councils, and more than one may cover the same area.

Smaller town and parish councils can be a source of useful local knowledge. An example comparing the type of information available is Patchway Town Council, which exists within the South Gloucestershire unitary authority (“unitary” indicating that it functions as both a county and a district council). Local authority departments may go under different titles but will include children’s services with children’s social services, education, adult social services, housing, planning, Disabled Facilities Grants, discretionary grants, trading standards, transport and disabled vehicle parking among others.

The local authority will cover some community health-related services, but this side of things will be NHS-based or linked to the NHS in some way. For example, equipment services are likely to cross over between district nurses linked to GP surgeries, and social services (although if you are just visiting an area and need some temporary equipment, the local branch of the Red Cross might be the place to start.) To find local health services, NHS Choices, gives some details and links to parts of the UK from “other NHS sites” at the bottom of the page.

All or most of the above will be very familiar to people with some experience, but to those who are new to it, it can seem like a maze.

A few other links relating to public services:

Local Family Information Services, which provide a range of information on services available to parents, including parents of disabled children.

NHS Choices services search, to find local health-related services.

Transferring to new services, including records, can often be assisted by the services you are moving from. Capability Scotland publish a guide for people moving to there with a disabled child, some of which could also be useful in other parts of the UK. A quick reference to all your child’s needs and existing services (such as a Personal Portfolio) can be a useful tool.

Transport information can be found at: Traveline.

Finding charities and other support

Good starting-points to get the lie of the land, as it were, are libraries (and librarians) – nearby ones can be found by entering a postcode or location name at: http://www.findalibrary.org.uk/#Start.

Tourist Information Centres are listed at: http://www.information-britain.co.uk/tic.cfm (in Northern Ireland, Visitor Information Centres, http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Visitor-Information-Centres-VICs–A2216).

Voluntary services organisations are likely to know what charities and informal groups are active in an area: in England, these are the Councils for Voluntary Service (CVS), listed at: http://www.navca.org.uk/directory/home.aspx. Wales has County Voluntary Councils, listed at: http://www.wcva.org.uk/members-partners/county-voluntary-councils. In Northern Ireland, the NICVA lists the organisations at: http://www.nicva.org/members_a-z, and in Scotland, many voluntary organisations are listed by area at: http://www.iscotland.co.uk/local/charities-and-voluntary-organisations/, and the umbrella body is the SCVO.

Another source of information about carers’ services and support groups in England, searching by town or postcode, links from http://www.nhs.uk/CarersDirect/guide/parent-carers/Pages/Parentsupportgroups.aspx.

For finding private services and suppliers: http://www.thephonebook.bt.com/publisha.content/en/index.publisha# (the listings here include youth organisations and some local support groups under “community groups”). This is not to overlook the other types of directory, yellow pages etc.

For regional and national groups, and wider organisations and services that include local activities; Netmums, contains discussions with people who have already been involved with some of them.

Local offices of national charities are good at knowing what else there is in an area, the characteristics and the contacts. Both local authorities and voluntary services are likely to list them, or it may be a case of looking at the website of the national charity concerned. For example, we have Cerebra regional family support workers around the UK.

A note about moving to a new area in the UK

There are broadly two types of people in this; those who like to research and get a good picture of a place and what is available, and those who would rather identify one key service provider for their child, or one relevant parents’ group, and find out from them what else there is when they get there. Most people who are interested to read this article on the Internet probably lean more towards the research approach, and it has to be said that at least some research is a good idea, not only in terms of looking up information, but also in terms of following up that information – remembering the salutary case of a family with a child whose educational needs were not being met well where they were living and consideration was being given to a specialist residential placement a long way from home. The family wanted their child to continue to live at home, so they uprooted everything else in order to move to a county where there was a day-school that, on paper, appeared to cater for the needs. However they did this without asking the school and, having arrived there, they found that the school did not agree. Another thing that can happen with local information – or any information – is that a facility may have changed since it was last put on to the Internet, even by an official source. I found out myself, recently, that this even extends to bus timetables, entailing a long wait at the bus stop.

If there is a choice about what area to move to, Neighbourhood statistics, and a school finder, which includes Ofsted reports etc., may be of interest.

The charity Shelter provides a basic reminder list of things to consider when moving home.

Other local intelligence

Grants from charitable trusts are often tied to what geographical area you live in, even sometimes covering a small area such as a village. You can search for these by postcode and/or other criteria at http://www.turn2us.org.uk/default.aspx.

Three 21st-century resources that are useful when you need to know about a local environment, either for a visit or to move to the area, are satellite imagery, online versions of local newspapers and local radio stations that provide online listening facilities. Streetview, Google Earth or a route-finder, for example, can give a view of an area or postcode that indicates whether there is a safe garden / park for a child to move about outside, how near a place is to facilities, what kinds of roads there are, and other things. The newspapers and radio stations will give some idea of the flavour of an area, what’s on, and probably some specific information as well.

Going abroad

The government publishes a series of “Living in” guides, covering a number of countries, containing essential local information for people planning to move abroad.

If you are looking for a particularly specialised or very specific service for a child within an area, Cerebra’s regional office or the national helpline can advise on further sources for that information.