Please enable JavaScript for this site to run correctly.
"it’s about using all our resources the best way we can to ensure our sustainability"

Most of the organisations that we found facilitating community-based activities were micro-enterprises. Most managers of these initiatives we spoke to have had to take risks particularly in starting up their support organisation or initiative. According to one manager:

"[Starting up] was a leap of faith because it was at a time where it was very evident that funding was drying up [estd. 2007]. Do you sink or do you swim? And I was not going to sink. So I invested my own money into this and completely gutted the place. So it's now fit for purpose." (Margaret, Community Day Activities)

The same manager expressed an awareness of the diverse nature of needs amongst people with learning disabilities, depending on age, degree of impairment, educational background, family support and availability of other opportunities. In effect, she said that they have to be very adaptable and offer multiple ‘entry points’ for people at different stages:

"So, basically, we've ended up with three businesses that are meeting people's needs and aspirations at different levels, or stages. And people come here for different reasons. It's not always about being independent. It might be about having a social group, making friends…and that leads onto other things, hopefully outside of us." (Margaret, Community Day Activities)

Once established, most organisations we interviewed were being supported by a mixed-funding model comprised mainly of charitable and voluntary funding. This funding was often linked to specific projects. There was a significant reliance on short, fixed-term grants such as Big Lottery money. While a valuable resource, the perils of relying on this funding was noted by many managers. One participant stated that a sole reliance on fixed-term funding for specific projects barely allowed the organisation to cover its overheads:

"I wish, in my ideal world that you could stop writing to funders and that it would be core money you got as opposed to specific projects. At the moment there’s a bid that’s gone in, well actually Sarah’s writing a bid, it’s from the People First but we have to rely on lottery grants from them, and I just wish we didn’t, [I wish] we had core money to do the office, the printing, but we’ve got to think about all those overhead things at the same time." (Yvonne, Friendship Meet Ups)

More generally, this short-term bidding culture put a lot of strain on organisations, particularly as little support was forthcoming from local authorities, as articulated by the following manager:

"I have every empathy that Social Services are stretched, they’ve got no money either, they’re fighting crises, so they can’t put [resource] into preventative work… So, if we set that as a challenge we’ve got to keep going, we fundraise, people are very generous, and we rely on a lot of the goodwill of volunteers to support our work so we can stretch what we do further and that’s really important… So it’s about using all our resources the best way we can to ensure our sustainability." (Casey, Friendship Meet Ups)

We know from other research that many of these micro-organisations fail. In our study, two organisations had ceased operating, despite being heralded as a model of innovation by the local authority. While personalisation policy has sought to create a model where organisations are funded via people’s personal budgets, we found little or no capacity building for organisations operating within this market.

According to one of the social care commissioners, it was a real challenge for the local authority to free up resources to support preventative initiatives like the organisations quoted above:

"How do we support the market or support the community to take some of these initiatives forward? Yes, I’d love to spend lots of time doing that, it’s the really interesting part of the work, but some of the bigger things always over-ride at the moment, the housing, the care and the statutory stuff— Yes, the challenges of funding has meant that most of our funding is meeting our statutory duties. You’ve got an increasing population of young, complex people coming through into adulthood with very high support needs, and then alongside that you’ve got an ageing population of people with learning disabilities with increasing needs. So, yes, the preventative services you’re forever defending--". (Charles, commissioner, rural local authority, England)

With commissioners, there was a recognition of the need to support the ‘preventative’ support sector (i.e. the types of organisations in our research that sought to foster independent living and prevent social care crises). A different commissioner in the same local authority stated that they had established a local Wellbeing Collaborative as a universal way of bringing their local voluntary sector together and working collectively to provide a preventative offer (e.g. for social prescribing). This was described as a means of offering community connector support, to foster social prescription services you get referred over and then they’re kind of linking you into stuff that’s going on.

The above quote also shows an insight into how commissioners are being faced with funding challenges as well as younger cohorts that are emerging with high support needs.

As a response to the funding context, many of the organisations were seeking to diversify their provision. One strategy was to incorporate a training component of their support, which enabled them to seek education and learning grants.

Another strategy was to try and run the organisation like a business, with an emphasis on securing paid work as opposed to bidding for grants. Examples of paid business included easy-ready work, selling books or other products, and subscriptions to services.

What learning is involved?

A sustainable learning organisation needs to be a learning organisation in which people reflect on and solve problems together. However, our research showed that learning opportunities were often missed or narrowed when transformation in services was not user-led.

What more can be done?

Local authorities can provide business development opportunities for learning disability support organisations. While personalisation policy refers to the development of a social care market, it cannot do this solely by relying on personal budgets.

Organisations could read the All Wales People First – Self-advocacy toolkit for self-advocacy and other related organisations about ways of earning money, not getting funding.