There were many interesting highlights and diversions at this year's National Children and Adult Services Conference in Bournemouth (#NCASC17), but as your dedicated Social Care News editor stepped onto the escalator to reach the upper levels of the venue, he hadn't anticipated travelling in time as well as space.
For, as he stepped into the exhibition area, he came face to face with a technological marvel which might just be the future of care and support - or at least a part of it. Sharon Houlden Director of Adult Social Care for Southend on Sea Borough Council introduces Pepper the Robot...
Sharon: "We undoubtedly live in exciting times, with technology a major part of our everyday lives. And whilst the words ‘local government’ and ‘exciting’ are not often put together by people outside of the sector, I can confidently say they are apt for Southend-on-Sea where we have become the first local authority to purchase a humanoid robot called Pepper to become a member of our social care team.
Introducing robotics to Southend-on-Sea and into local government in general is a pioneering moment and I don’t think it gets much more exciting than that.
I’m fortunate to have a talented and innovative team, who’ve been eager to support me in driving forward this work to the point where we have Pepper functioning, programmed and ready to ‘start his work.’
So what will he be doing exactly? Whilst he doesn't have the functionality to carry out any direct or personal one to one care, he will be used in a range of settings, including in residential care homes, our sheltered housing schemes and as an information and advice point in relevant buildings.
Pepper will also be a champion for the advances that digital and robotic technology and programming can make in a social care setting and he will visit local schools to inspire children to consider a career in the social care, robotic and programming sector.
We also want to use him in some of our inter-generational projects – for example in one group, where older people teach younger people how to knit, he could display knitting techniques and video tutorials.
He can also play videos and we plan to develop a reminiscence session that Pepper could run. We expect that whilst he will not replace any services we commission, he will free up time for our social workers and carers to spend more time giving direct care and the personal touch.
We are also stepping into the unknown. No-one has done this before in a local authority so this is also about exploration, pushing the boundaries and learning about what Pepper could achieve and how robotics could help us tackle some of the challenges the social care sector faces.
We are convinced that digital technology and robotics is where the future lies for social care and we would be delighted to explore this further with other innovative councils and technology/robotic partners."
You can follow Pepper on Twitter @PepperSouthend or email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org