Celebrating Excellence in collaboration

Continuing in a series of features celebrating this year’s winners, Christine Bithell, Community Engagement Development Manager at Options for Supported Living, shares insight into the group’s collaborative practices and her personal motivations behind the project. Plus, an exciting announcement on the Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards.

Project Collective, Options for Supported Living won the Collaboration (Integration) Award at the Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards 2020.

Project Collective, Options for Supported Living has demonstrated excellent partnership working in order to deliver activities that wouldn’t otherwise be achievable. The group’s focus on promoting the arts amongst people with learning disabilities remained uninterrupted by COVID-19, displaying its strength in developing meaningful and long-lasting connections within the community.

Inspired by legacy

Project Collective is a group of organisations working in Liverpool with a passion for art. We work together to provide spaces and opportunities for artists with learning disabilities to create and display their work.

We were inspired by Project Art Works, a Turner Prize-nominated, Hastings-based art organisation working with artists with learning disabilities and complex needs. It was attending their Illuminating the Wilderness exhibition at Tate Liverpool, as part of their Explorers project, that sparked the idea of Project Collective. Project Collective is the legacy of that exhibition and the wider Explorers project. Our aim is to continue the preliminary work started by the first Explorers project and develop the presence of artists with learning disabilities.

Breaking the cycle

I have always loved art but I never quite managed to make a career from it. My need for job security meant that not having a regular wage was too much of a risk to follow my dreams. However, I felt lucky because I ended up doing a job I loved, supporting people with learning disabilities to live their lives to the full.

After meeting Project Art Works at Tate Liverpool, I finally realised a way of combining my person-centred support skills and my passion for art, so I began writing a programme of art experiences. I wanted to incorporate health into this as it’s an area I’m passionate about, especially after my time as Health Lead at Options. I called the programme ‘Stuck In’, to reference people we support being stuck in a cycle they often have no voice in.

The birth of Project Collective allowed me to amplify this message to a broader audience. Options for Supported Living, together with Natural Breaks, Blue Room, Acorn Farm, Mencap Liverpool and Sefton and Tate Liverpool, all form Project Collective.

Martin Swan from Project Art Works set up our initial meeting, where a representative from each organisation came. Later, we invited people we support to join our steering group to support our decision making and guide our projects:

  • Lewis Scott is a member of Blue Room and Mencap, an artist, actor and socialite.
  • Martin Boyed is a member of Mencap and a keen artist whose art adorns the Mencap office walls.
  • Tom Rooney, a member of Blue Room and supported by Options, is a thoughtful artist with a passion for health and wellbeing.

These people formed the perfect springboard for Stuck In, so we began to meet regularly and plan our project.

Sharing experiences

Project Collective gets together to share art experiences with those who work with people with learning disabilities or people with a learning disability. Before lockdown, we did this via workshops, with people we support and with professionals working with them. A video of our first meeting is available to download online. We would also appear at conferences with health professionals where we would ask them to ‘get creative’, shifting the roles of experts from the health care worker to the artists, those artists being people with learning disabilities.

After lockdown, the way we worked changed dramatically. We moved online to steering group meetings and spent our time developing a pack (supported by Austin & Hope Pilkington Trust Fund), to send out to people we support who had engaged in our previous workshops.

Managing priorities and accessibility

I’m not sure if any group had faced anything like a global pandemic before but, for a group who had been together less than one year, it was a real struggle. Our steering groups are formed of representatives from six organisations who have faced diverse challenges. During the pandemic, people were furloughed, retired and changed roles. It has been hard to stick together and to dedicate time when we all have different priorities.

Our steering group still met, but we decided to offer each other support rather than push our project forward. This support group became vital for people with learning disabilities in Merseyside. Adult social care faced difficult situations one after another, from unlawful ‘do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitations’ (DNACPRs) to inaccessible information for people we support. Project Collective shared information and supported one another.

We created an Easy Read bank. Easy Read is a form of accessible information that includes pictures and simple sentences and helps support someone with a learning disability to understand new information. If you can recall lockdown one, there was so much new information flying around that finding the best way to help people with learning disabilities to understand it was tricky. Information needs to be available in accessible ways so that everyone can understand.

 A bright future

We are planning to finish one of our projects and are looking forward to a celebration together when we are able to. We want to continue to offer opportunities to people we support and display their work in local art events such as the Liverpool Independence Biennial, as well as other local arts festivals like Light Night.

Christine Bithell is Community Engagement Development Manager at Options for Supported Living.

Email: christine.bithell@ofsl.org.uk Twitter: @proj_collective

CMM announces the next Markel 3rd sector care awards

We are thrilled to announce that the Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards will be returning once more.

Nominations will open later this year, followed by the ceremony in 2022. 2020’s ceremony was the first to be held online due to COVID-19 restrictions, taking place in February 2021 as a result. It is hoped that 2022 will see the much-anticipated return of a face-to-face event which will now continue to take place annually in February. We can’t wait to use our brand new ceremony time to begin the new year in celebration.

The Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards are all about celebrating excellence in the not-for-profit sector, and 2022 promises to be no different. Preparations are well underway towards a provision ceremony date of Friday 11th February 2022*. Other important dates for your diary include nominations opening on Friday 23rd July* and closing on Friday 8th October 2021*, as well as the judging day falling on either Thursday 2nd* or Friday 3rd December 2021*.

We know that you are just as excited as we are to all get back together to celebrate the fantastic work going on in the sector. The atmosphere of knowledge-sharing coupled with engaging hosts, Dame Esther Rantzen and Rebecca Wilcox, is not to be missed and we hope to receive your nominations en-masse. This helps to recognise the work of those making a positive difference to people’s lives, whether they are supporting children or adults.

Speaking of nominations, anyone can enter themselves or nominate someone else in one of the ceremony’s categories – irrespective of their position in an organisation. All entries will continue to be free to enure that the event is accessible to all.

The Awards focus on creative arts, community engagement, innovation, quality improvements, integration, technology and governance. These categories and the entry criteria have always been based on specific strategies – from Government and the sector – and have evolved over time to maintain relevance in an ever-changing landscape.

We want the recognition of our brilliant winners to extend far beyond the day of the ceremony. That’s why we offer the opportunity for all winners to feature in a 1,000 word write up in CMM magazine, profiling the organisation or individual and sharing their story. The ceremony itself also offers countless chances for networking with high-profile leaders within the sector, such as chief executives and directors of national organisations.

Limited sponsorship and marketing opportunities are available for The Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards. Supporting the Awards in this manner is an excellent way of demonstrating your commitment to a sector underpinned by hard work and innovation. Increased awareness of your brand and extensive social media coverage are amongst the automatic benefits granted to those supporting the event.

For more information on the Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards, please contact the Awards team on 01223 207770 or email lisa.werthmann@carechoices.co.uk

*dates subject to change

A note from Markel, our headline sponsor

‘Our work is appreciated nationally and achieving the care award recognises our efforts and expertise.’
‘To receive national recognition for this vital part of our service is incredibly gratifying.’

These are just two of the many comments we received as feedback from winners in relation to the Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards. Markel has now been involved in the awards for four years as headline sponsors.

As a specialist insurer for the care and charity sector, we recognise the challenges faced by organisations in this industry. The recognition that the awards provide for all of the nominees makes the vital work they carry out wholly worthwhile.

Our team at Markel UK are always inspired and amazed by the entries and the people we meet each year through the awards. This is why Markel continues to support the awards and lend our name to these very unique honours that recognise both care and charity associations.

We are proud to say that past winners have gone on to win a Queens Award for Innovation, secure extra funding, and gain publicity, so we would positively encourage organisations to enter the awards. The entry process is straightforward with minimal extra work and each year we encourage as many entries as possible.

We all acknowledge that the past year has been difficult for the sector and more than ever we need to show our appreciation and celebrate the people, innovation, and the sheer resilience we have seen across the industry. For this reason, we are very excited to see the entries for the next awards. We are also hopeful that we will all meet in person at the ceremony in February 2022.

Markel is not just an insurer to the sector; we are a partner within the industry. During the last 12 months we have offered extensive support to the sector through COVID-19. Whilst many insurers stopped writing new business, Markel doubled its efforts to give businesses confidence and financial certainty when they needed it most. Whether it’s for complex operational advice or a second opinion to reinforce decision making, we are here to help care providers run their business effectively.

We apply the same approach to the awards as we do to our standing within this industry. The awards provide a focus and show of appreciation for this amazing sector, highlighting the innovations and incredible people involved.

That is why Markel continues to be involved in the 3rd Sector Care Awards and looks forward to receiving this year’s nominations.

The Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards celebrate the excellence, innovation and creativity in the voluntary care and support sector. Specialist insurer, Markel are headline sponsors of the event. 





About Christine Bithell

Christine Bithell, is Community Engagement Development Manager at Options for Supported Living.
Graduating from the Liverpool School of Art and Design in 2009, Christine began working with people with learning disabilities. She returned to education in 2012, completing a Research Masters studying d/Deaf Art. Christine continued to work in person-centred ways with people before arriving as Health Lead at Options.
Christine has used her passion for art and experience of person-centeredness to bring together Project Collective, where the approach is always collaborative, using the strengths of each organisation to ensure people benefit.

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