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Business Clinic
Great Communities – supporting people who ‘fall through the gaps’

Local authorities are facing unprecedented demand for services, accompanied by budget reductions. These pressures are leading to cuts in services and providers are being asked to support more people for less money. This all creates a risk that some people will ‘fall through the gaps’.

In response to this risk, Community Catalysts and MacIntyre have worked in partnership to create the Great Communities project, piloting in Warrington.

The aim is to reach out to people with disabilities who may find themselves in this situation – without services to support them but unable to fully support themselves.

The project is supporting these people alongside the local community, including businesses, to reflect on what they do and how they can evolve to provide rich opportunities to more people with disabilities.

The aim is to make connections and think differently to ensure that Warrington is a vibrant, inclusive and aspirational community for all.

Making connections

Great Communities connects with those at risk of missing out on services.

It works by speaking to people about their lives and goals, learning about the things they are good at and the things they care about. It then starts to connect them with organisations or individuals that might help, including others in a similar situation.

Sometimes people can see that the only way to tackle an issue they face is for them to take the lead and set up something new – and Great Communities is there to help them. It also looks to find unused assets in Warrington – spaces, vehicles, and people who wanted to help but were unsure what they could do.

Sarah Burslem, Chief Executive of MacIntyre expanded on the drivers behind the project. She said, ‘It is clear that many people who, in the past, would have been eligible for social care support will no longer meet the eligibility criteria.

‘As a provider who has a local infrastructure and good community connections, we see first-hand the impact that a lack of support is having on the lives of some disabled people and their families. We also see the warmth, inclusivity and creativity of some communities.

‘The Great Communities project will quite simply find a way to link the two. Warrington seemed a great place to start as we already had a strong presence, some great connections and are providing support to many people with learning disabilities.’

Making the most of everyone’s skills and encouraging contribution is at the heart of the project – local people helping themselves and each other, one connection and contribution at a time.

Current work

In many cases, the team has found it takes just one conversation with an individual to start a series of connections and actions that have the potential to improve the lives of many people.

The project is still in its early days. It is mostly connecting with people aged 19 to 30; some people have lost contact with friends since leaving school and find themselves without a career or educational pathway.

They may have a lack of confidence in travelling independently or in knowing where or how to meet people. Their skills and talents are often not being recognised or used and they have low aspirations.

The project saw one young woman, Kellly, who didn’t have many friends and wanted to increase her social circle. She had a part-time job and was able to travel independently, but she wanted to meet people. She was sure there were other people out there who wanted to connect because they felt isolated.

With the help of Great Communities, Kelly decided to start a social group to meet new people and fill a gap in the local social scene for others. She has now made two good friends and says, ‘It feels good to have people I can click with. People who understand and are in the same position.’ Until she met her new friends she said, ‘I always thought it was only me that struggled.’

The newly-established group decided they wanted to help more people, so the Great Communities project is supporting Kelly and the others to develop the group. The group decided on the kind of venue they wanted and, through developing connections with a local business woman, MacIntyre supported them to secure a base and to apply for and secure a small start-up grant.

MacIntyre also supported group members to make connections with other people who might like to join, increasing the group size to nine people in the first week.
MacIntyre has co-produced with group members and helped people to plan how to proceed, make decisions collectively and think how to make the group sustainable. The group aims to have 20 members by December 2018.


So far there has been a great deal of interest from professionals of every discipline and families keen to connect with Great Communities.

MacIntyre’s vision is for the Great Communities project to support good and lasting relationships that help to reduce the gaps. Warrington is a great place to start and the charity hopes to replicate elsewhere.

Over to the experts…

Is this scheme replicable in other areas? Can it benefit more social care organisations? What about other areas of adult social care? How can it be expanded to support more people?

The best ideas are often the simplest

As I read more about McIntyre’s Great Communities project I was struck not only by its simplicity but by how it acts as a reminder to those of us working in the charitable sector to go back and check our objectives. In times of austerity, it’s too easy to forget why we’re here, to make decisions about our resources based on finances, ignoring our very reason for being.

The Great Communities project address both our social impact and limited resources in a way that adds value to the communities we serve. If you browse the websites of organisations across the social care sector most will say that our organisation is at the heart of the community, but is this really true? Do we connect with others who are not like us and do different things?

Voluntary and statutory services alike have struggled with the pace of change in social care and at times failed to realign resources. By taking an assets-based approach, McIntyre has captured the imagination of a whole community and helped them to see their role and contribution to the place they work and live.

Rather than wait for the social care Green Paper, organisations could take a leaf out of McIntyre’s book and seek new collaborations that put something back into the communities they have worked within for many years.

This is a scheme that could so easily be replicated locally and nationally across all areas of adult social care. All it takes is for one organisation to step up and decide that it can work with others to make a difference.

So thank you McIntyre for showing us that the best ideas are often the simplest. All this needs is a belief that giving something back to our communities can change lives.

Sarah Maguire Chief Executive Officer, Choice Support 

Much to learn and share

This is a brilliant demonstration of the central and active role that voluntary sector care providers play in their local communities. These are the kinds of community-building initiatives that commissioners value, but rarely fund.

Cumulative adult social care savings since 2010 amount to £7bn and, this year alone, local authorities’ planned savings for adult social care are around £700m. Yet there is an urgent need to build community capacity and resilience.

As this project demonstrates, building social capital and recognising innovation and community engagement makes local care and support more effective and sustainable in the long term. It can also save money, but this should not be the primary driver.

Commissioners should prioritise providers that are effective, or have potential, in delivering social value. This requires relationships to be built up over the long-term. But the ‘merry go round’ of costly re-tendering exercises can detract from the prize of sustainable development. In some cases, retendering can see providers exiting local areas. A focus on providers as community capacity builders is not just right, but reflects legal principles enshrined in the Public Services (Social Value) Act.

Clearly there is much to learn and share from the Great Communities project. Yes it can be replicated and expanded. But the bigger prize is in maximising the levers of social value and getting the right organisations working within communities towards common goals. Good providers should set themselves challenging goals to create as much social impact as they can, and then they should seek to create even more.

Rhidian Hughes Chief Executive, VODG 

It’s vital that this is encouraged

There are multiple pressures on our current social care system. The talk is of constant crisis and imminent collapse. Rising demand for services, increasing expectations, pressure on budgets and workforce are all combining to fill the column inches with doom and gloom. We have to reimagine.

This pilot in Warrington takes a very different view to the traditional. Instead of assessing someone for their ‘deficits’ then giving them a ‘package’, this project looks at a person’s ‘assets’. Navigating and connecting people to bring together their networks, giving permission for community-based mutual support and crucially allowing the space for reciprocity. No one wants to be a ‘service user’. We all thrive from the support we receive from our friends, families and neighbours; and we thrive too on what we are able to give back.

This approach recognises and releases the humanity, ofttimes squeezed out in our current rigid ‘needs assessment’ culture. The crucial importance of relationships. With the potential to bring hope into people’s lives, create better jobs and using resources more effectively.
In a report I recently authored, with Des Kelly, for the government of Northern Ireland a clear outcome of our consultations was that this kind of approach should be scaled to become the ‘way we do social care’ in the future; the citizen at the heart in resilient and connected communities.

Examples are emerging in many parts of the UK. It’s vital that this is encouraged, learned from and scaled. The challenge is to persuade commissioners and regulators to think outside the old ways and allow a reimagining of social care for a 21st century society.

John Kennedy Independent Social Care Consultant 

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