Community Catalysts has been working since 2007 to help local people use their energies and talents to deliver social care and health support and services for other local people. They do this by setting up very small businesses which we call community micro-enterprises. These community micro-enterprises provide much more choice for people needing care and support. Their services are usually co-designed and often co-produced. They help people live a good life, connected into and contributing to their community. In 2016 we extended our support to community businesses interested in diversifying to deliver health and care services to people in their neighbourhood. Community businesses are locally rooted and accountable to local people. They trade for the benefit of the local community and have wide community impact.
The world of regulation, legislation and local authority commissioning is complex for small community-led enterprises wanting to deliver care to people in their neighbourhood. We knew from our work that, without expert help, few local people can negotiate these complexities and set up sustainable, viable and high-quality services. There was however no independent evidence of the need for expert help to grow a market of locally-led and delivered care services in local communities.
Three charities, Esmée Fairbairn, Power to Change and Barrow Cadbury recognised the importance of independent research to establish both the value of these small, community-rooted services and their need for expert help to become established and thrive. Their generous grants allowed to work with both the New Economic Foundation and the University of Birmingham on separate pieces of research. The New Economic Foundation examined the impact of community enterprise on local economies, while the University of Birmingham looked at the contribution of community enterprise and business to local care markets and the case for investment in specialist support to enable more community enterprises and business to deliver help and care to people in their neighbourhood.
I think it is really important what we do actually. I think there are a lot of people that live on their own, whether they are in care homes or elsewhere, and they are really, really lonely, and really isolated, and culturally have very, very little access. So, if you are actually asking people to do some of the things that we ask them to do, you are really taking them into a completely different space which people are slightly challenged about, but they never say no, ever.
Community micro-enterprise leader reflecting on why they seek to tackle social isolation and loneliness in the design of their services
These papers bring together the findings from these two separate pieces of research that make the case for investment in support for community micro-enterprise and business. They found that these small community-rooted services are easily overlooked by policymakers, commissioners, and funders, who are seeking to respond to multiple changing needs and concerns in the wider health and care sector. They are nevertheless well-placed to deliver support that generates positive outcomes for people and their families and contributes to wider social and economic policy priorities. They can adapt and change with the changing needs of their communities. They create wider benefits to their communities through ‘ripple effects’ (which are often harder to capture and quantify). The specialist help provided by organisations like Community Catalysts is important in enabling these community-rooted organisations to overcome not only business challenges and legislative and regulatory barriers but also barriers created by the systems, culture and practice of funders such as the local authority.
[Community businesses] actually have a role to play in helping individual commissioners understand how to […] look at what are the social value opportunities and how smaller organisations can really compete in terms of, the benefit that they bring to communities to make them fully competitive […] not just on the core service that they’ve been commissioned to deliver, but also on what was their social value commitment.
Local authority commissioner
The evidence that underpins these business cases makes them hard to ignore. We believe that local authorities and integrated care systems will find them invaluable as they work to transform health and social care services so that people who need support can get help in ways that suit them and let them live the lives they want – and local communities can thrive.
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By Sian Lockwood – CEO of Community Catalysts
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