Innovations in health and social care - Community Circles

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Problem

Many people are isolated, lonely, and lacking community connections and support from people other than paid workers. This leads to a lack of wellbeing and failure to prevent unnecessary or excessive use of expensive services. Existing service responses do not prioritise or are not effective in tackling this.

Solution 

Community Circles are facilitated by volunteers who are recruited, trained and supported by Circle Connectors. They bring together family members, friends, community members and (in some cases) service staff to support individuals. They use person-centred methods and tools to identify the things that are important to people and then plan and act to achieve these things – increasing wellbeing, combatting loneliness, building community connections and improving care outcomes. Circles are currently mostly used by people with dementia, learning disabilities and mental health needs, as well as older people, but are also being explored with other groups who may benefit – for example, young unemployed people, disabled children and adults, and at-risk families. Circles can benefit people living in a range of settings and using various forms of support – at home, in care and nursing homes, schools or training settings, hospices, etc.

Evidence base

Currently limited by stage of development. A PSSRU report (2014) on a sample of Circles for people with learning disabilities showed significant reported increases in social care-related quality of life as measured by ASCOT, in addition to increased community connections, reductions in carer stress and reduced likely costs for people with high support needs (caveat: small sample – but PSSRU considered findings promising). Evaluations of goal attainment and wellbeing built into Circles method. Evaluation with Academic Partner about to start in largest scheme (Doncaster).

Expected impact

Increased wellbeing linked to achievement of Circle goals and personal and community connections developed. Improved care-related outcomes, reduced carer stress, prevented or reduced use of some services. Increased volunteer base and contribution to recruitment in social care. Improved and more effective connections between local VCS, businesses and service providers.

Stage/spread

Early stage, preparing for spread. 10 Circle Connectors embedded in organisations and localities. Significant new projects starting in 2017 are likely to double this. Spread strategy aiming for 10k Circles in 5 years.

What would councils/local areas need to do or have in place to enable it to happen? 

Commissioner willingness to encourage and lever with providers and local VCS. If wanting rapid development in an area of service or support, an initial small investment will be necessary (approx. £60k).

What would kill it? 

Reliance on public sector commissioning. Intrusive regulation. Pale imitations of the method/model.

Where to go for more information

Website: www.community-circles.co.uk (opens new window)
Email: martin@community-circles.co.uk
This animate explains how Community Circles work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuLCz8sRWN0&feature=youtu.be (opens new window)
This animate describes how Wellbeing Teams and Community Circles address health, loneliness and wellbeing: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pECj3fFgYiM (opens new window)