The Care Forum is a networking forum for those working in health, welfare, education, caring and religious areas in Torrington and twenty-three surrounding parishes. The Forum has been in existence for over thirty years and group membership has often been over thirty.
Keith Hughes, who was the Devon County Council’s Community Education Tutor at the Eric Palmer Community Centre responsible for Youth, Adult and Community development, perceived a need to develop greater communications within the town and its neighbouring parishes, especially in the area of local care groups and organisations. His views were shared by Methodist minister John Bradley who helped Keith set up the Forum in February 1986 when fifteen people took part in its first meeting.
The proposal was to bring together representatives from the various organisations, either from within the town and district or serving the town but based elsewhere. The representatives might be full or part-time professionals, full or part-time voluntary workers. They would meet over lunch where one-to-one contacts and introductions could be made. There followed an hour’s informal yet structured meeting, with members sitting in a circle – no hierarchy here! The idea was that members should come either with specific needs or ideas they wished to share with others, or to listen and learn of other agencies’ work or issues.
The Forum still meets on the second Wednesday of every month, but now at the community hospital, and a snack lunch is provided. Apart from paying a small membership subscription each year, the general monthly meetings manage themselves without the need for a committee, although the Forum does have officers. Members come, representing their group, organisation or area of work, and both give and receive information. Ideas are floated, areas of general concern to all in the community are voiced, as well as individual requests for help, advice, or suggestions to run a project jointly, and are all thrown into the general and open discussion. Time is allowed after the meeting for one-to-one contacts and for follow-up points on issues raised earlier in the meeting. The Forum can also act as a pressure group.
Since the Forum began it has played a part in establishing a variety of projects: setting up ‘The Crier’, the Torrington newsletter; getting a zebra crossing, which had been campaigned for by young mothers in the town; helping to create the Community Development Trust, which redeveloped the pannier market and established the Castle Hill Centre; going to Westminster to lobby for an NHS dental surgery (and getting one).
Keith Hughes, who was chairman for twenty-two years, is still a member of the Forum which continues to meet and function much as it did at the start. It has met the needs of community care workers and proved invaluable for them in making personal contacts and affecting outcomes in their respective groups or areas of work. Keith says members are extremely enthusiastic about networking and the transfer of information and feels sure the Forum will be around for many more years. He says thanks are due to all those members who have worked for and with the Forum over the past thirty-three years and made it such a great success and asset to the town’s community.