Stories of success - independent support brokerage in Halifax

How can independent brokerage support people to achieve their goals? TLAP’s Martin Walker visits Imagineer in Halifax on his road trip searching for stories of success in support planning.

When I was thinking about who I could meet on my road trip looking for alternative approaches to care and support planning, I immediately thought of Liz Leach at Imagineer in Halifax. She’s the chair of the National Brokerage Network that was established around the time Putting People First was a major policy initiative, and well before the Care Act.  I’d initially met Liz at a TLAP event a few years ago, where I’d been inspired by her values-driven approach.

I visited with Caroline Waugh, my colleague from the National Coproduction Advisory Group (NCAG), earlier this year. We wanted to find out how independent support brokerage is faring and how the approach leads to people having good lives and better outcomes.

Independent support brokerage is carried out to support people to achieve their goals and a quality of life that works for them. It is a set of functions determined and led by the person, putting them very much in the driving seat. The broker works with people to build confidence, capacity and connections, and to reduce dependency, barriers and any limiting beliefs. Imagineer has worked with over 150 people and their families since its formation. 

How does it work?

Liz explains the approach: “It starts with listening to the person and holding a ‘meandering style' conversation with them where they hold the space and direct the conversation. Through this open approach a wealth of information is shared.  

“Once we understand what is important to them, we move on to look at how they can progress from where they are to where they want to be in the future, what needs to happen to help them get there and who can support them to achieve it.  We don’t limit peoples’ beliefs and are resourceful when looking at how to make things possible and exploring a range of options available to the person.

“When it comes to creating real change in a person’s life we start with what they are confident to do themselves. Then we think about who else is around who could help; this could include family, friends, neighbours, people from the person’s circle of support and people from local community or religious groups. We move on to thinking about people who are paid to be part of their lives and how they could help.

“We believe this approach builds confidence, resilience and a stronger network of support. It also reduces isolation and dependency on statutory services. Statutory service practitioners can then focus on the areas of expertise and specialism they are trained to provide. People begin to make real and positive changes and connect with people in a way to enable these changes to happen – they are very much in the driving seat.”

Who are independent support brokers?

Liz is fairly typical of many independent support brokers who are members of the National Brokerage Network. When person-centred planning was introduced in the residential sector where she used to work, Liz found it made her question her own value-base. She became the person-centred planning co-ordinator for Bradford District where she developed a team of independent facilitators and was influential in the shift from a service-based model to a person-centred one.

Liz talked about the different parts of the self-directed support process they are involved in: “The person-centred plan is about gathering the persons aspirations for a better future and understanding their life as it is now.  It is a set of functions that encompasses planning as well as putting the plans in action in a value-based way.”

Changing people’s lives - what difference does independent brokerage make?

Liz was able to clearly articulate how being outside statutory services enables her to take a different perspective in supporting people and helping them to think through their options:

“There was one lady living in a supported living scheme. From the moment she moved in her family and support team recognised she was not happy there. Eight years later she was still there, letting people know she wasn’t happy.

“We got involved and first we established a circle of support. We worked with a local housing broker to secure a private tenancy and advertised and recruited a team of support workers, so now she has her own team and her own tenancy. It took only eight months to reach this outcome and it’s been working really well for five years.

“What was needed in this case was a group of people committed to making a difference in her life, people who were prepared to find the solutions by looking outside the usual provision and a legal knowledge around tenancy agreements.

Liz told us another story about another man who had a person-centred plan and he made it clear that he really wanted to go walking in the countryside. The first reaction from his team of paid workers was that he needed to wait until the specialist walking group had been set up for people with learning disabilities. The facilitators asked if they could read the previous review meeting minutes and they discovered that he had been asking for this for over six years! 

Imagineer worked with him to find a better solution, did some research and found the guy who organised the local Ramblers Association. He happened to live around the corner. They organised a meeting, did some training with him about the need to ensure a plan was in place if anything went wrong on a walk and he started to join the weekly walks.

“His family had concerns and we worked together to discuss these. We found that generally there was a negative outlook on his life and the emphasis on him keeping safe outweighed all other aspects of his life and he was being held back. We worked together to overcome the concerns and to outline respective roles and responsibilities that changed everything. In time he also got a bike and went on a cruise with his dad. His life just opened up.”

These were just two stories from a whole host of examples Liz shared with us.

Is support brokerage just about learning disabilities?

The concept of independent support brokerage is often associated with supporting people who have a learning disability, but Liz quickly dispels that myth in sharing stories about the people she has worked with. This includes people with long-term health conditions, physical and learning disabilities, mental health conditions, people with a dual diagnosis, people living with dementia and people with autism.  

Support brokerage has been useful for people eligible for social care, health and education funding. Equally it has proved valuable to those not eligible for state funding but where input has reduced feelings of isolation and enabled the person to become connected with their local community.

What’s happening at the moment?

There is clearly some lack of understanding of the role of independent support brokers amongst social workers Liz has interacted with. She believes that professionals are often concerned that when they are involved there will be an expectation to spend more and go over the allocated budget and that what is proposed within a person’s support plan might be too risky.

“We are often viewed as untrained or not knowledgeable, when in fact we have a wealth of experience and skills to offer that could work effectively alongside the social work duties and skill set.  When a social worker has been understanding about support brokerage the relationship has worked really well, being able to concentrate on achieving a detailed comprehensive assessment and fair allocation of resources whilst the support broker works with the individual to explore options, think creatively about what is possible, develop and cost a detailed support plan.”   

Liz reflects that there is a worrying trend of a range of issues that are preventing people getting good support. “Getting an assessment is a major problem, support and services are arbitrarily cut without due process, people are left isolated and at risk. People are not having the opportunity to access their rights under the Care Act or be knowledgeable about what these rights are” she says.

How is it funded and where next?

Independent brokerage is funded through a range of sources including:

  • grant funding
  • spot contracts from a Local Authority or CCG
  • being built into Personal Budgets or Personal Health Budgets for ongoing brokerage
  • self-funding and can be provided freely through people willing to provide it on a voluntary basis.  

In the early days of Imagineer people largely found about the support offered through word of mouth and connections they had in the community. As the organisation has grown web and social media presence have become more influential as have referrals from local authorities and CCGs.

The National Brokerage Network delivers accredited training to enable the development of independent support brokerage. The course provides a detailed insight into the functions of independent support brokerage covering how to build good relationships, how to be mindful of people who are supported being in the driving seat and taking control, creating good community connections, the process of accessing a personal budget or personal health budget and then exiting the relationship. The aim of the training is to build capacity in local areas for better community led independent support brokerage.

What did we learn?

Early thinking around the time of Putting People First envisaged the growth of independent brokerage, with care and support planning as a likely function of this role.

Despite good evidence that this approach is welcomed by people needing support when they are aware of it, the take up of brokerage has not been as prolific as anticipated.

Independent support brokerage is very person-centred and leads to good outcomes, transforming some people’s lives. It can complement statutory roles such as social work, but needs to be embraced by professionals in order to facilitate those life transformations. Currently, the independent role too often identifies cases where statutory rights have not been promoted. Social workers could use these opportunities to reflect on their practice and argue a case for change with their commissioners in both the approach to support planning and brokerage, and in the diversity of the local offer of support.

There is scope and a depth of experience and learning to build and scale this practice if councils and CCG’s start to view it as a significant strategic component of their approach to personalisation.

Read about Imagineer Development UK CIC amongst others in the Innovations in community-centred support directory.


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