Circles of Support and Personalisation

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Circles of Support
and Personalisation
Max Neill and Helen Sanderson
Support Relationships
Person centred
Person centred
Circles of support and personalisation
Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 4
1 What are Circles?…………………………………………………………………………………………5
2 What is the contribution of Circles of Support to delivering personalisation and
creating social capital ……………………………………………………………………………….. 12
3 Ideas for Circles of Support at scale …………………………………………………………… 13
Appendix 1 ……………………………………………………………………………………………………16
Circles of support and personalisation
The authors would like to thank some of the key people who have helped us with
preparing this paper. They include: Julie Barclay, Peter, Wendy and Nicky Crane,
Christine Farrell, Jen Bose, Kath McInstry, Jodie Allen-Cawley, Caroline Tomlinson,
Suzie and Jennie Franklin, Debbie Waters and all the people who have agreed that
we can share information about their circles.
Circles of support and personalisation
“When we seek for connection, we restore the world to wholeness. Our
seemingly separate lives become meaningful as we discover how truly
necessary we are to each other”
Margaret J. Wheatley
‘Circles of Support’ already improve the lives of a small minority of people in
thousands of diverse ways. How can we share the effectiveness of circles so
that they touch the lives of many more people, and become a tool for building
connection and resilience in our communities?
The beginning of this decade has been characterised by rapid change around the
world. New technologies and new attitudes means that people have been creating
new forms of networks, networks that have given them the strength and courage
to attempt what a few years ago might have seemed impossible.
In the UK, the way social care is organised and fnanced is undergoing radical
change. Despite the challenges caused by cuts, a shift toward personalisation is
creating new opportunities for people who use social care to live in ways that
overcome exclusion and disempowerment. We believe however there is potential
for this change to go much wider and much deeper; if we can learn how to give
real attention and sustenance to the structures that support people, going beyond
traditional rigid formal structures toward more natural, flexible structures where
the person is in far more control of their situation.
In this context, the potential for a reinvigoration of the idea of ‘circles of support’
seems immense. Using the control over resources that personal budgets in health
and social care offers to people, coupled with the practice of building a supportive
network of allies around a person becomes a powerful mechanism for implementing
change in that person’s life, change in the way services interact with that person, and
a fundamental change in the way communities receive and regard people who require
long-term support. Circles are actually
a deeply practical way of building social
and community capital and of harnessing
‘social productivity’. Circles bring
together people to think and plan in a
way that organically builds the capacity
of communities to welcome people
with disabilities. Circles of support,
coupled with personal budgets have the
potential to become powerful methods
of delivering support for far many more
people, though this will require an
investment of resources, commitment
and energy at many levels from the
leadership of health and social care.
Figure 1: Circles can use person centred thinking
to link a person’s paid and natural supports
together, and help to build relationships and
connections with the community
Support Relationships
Person centred
Person centred
Circles of support and personalisation
1 What are Circles?
The idea of a circle is both simple and ancient. It’s the way that the frst human
beings decided everything about how they would live. A circle is simply a group of
people who come together regularly with a common purpose, who think and talk
together, then agree and take actions that will further that purpose. It’s based on
humanity and human relationships, and on the way that a group of people working
together can harness their mental and physical resources toward a common end.
When a circle is built around a person who would otherwise tend to fnd themselves
underestimated and excluded from society, the circle’s focus can be turned onto
challenging it’s members to explore ways of enabling the person at it’s centre to
reach their highest potential, to develop positive roles and relationships and to live
the kind of life that makes most sense to them, it links the person up with others,
but also links everyone involved with each other.
Most people build their own circles quite naturally and informally through their
everyday lives. However one issue that is common to many people who have long
term illness or disability is that they become socially isolated. Often people fnd
that the only people consistently in their lives are close family or paid carers. Here
it becomes necessary to consciously build circles and connections with the person,
because for some people connection does not occur easily or automatically.
Sometimes a circle can even begin with just the focus person and one other person
making a commitment to work to build a circle of support around the person,
however difcult that is, and however long it takes. This more ‘intentional’ work
of building connections in order to overcome a person’s social isolation is what is
meant by a ‘circle of support’.
The work of building circles can be based on the loftiest dreams and ambitions, yet at
the same time is highly practical and mundane, as simple as following quietly in the
person’s daily itinerary and making note of all the people that person actually knows
and interacts with, searching for those people who might be invited into the circle.
Jennie’s Circle
Jennie’s circle was set up to help her in transition. Jennie already had a personcentred plan (an Essential Lifestyle Plan) and when she was in Year 10 she had a
person centred review. Suzie, Jennie’s Mum takes up the story:
“Jennie’s person-centred review made me realise that the best way for us
to move Jennie’s future forward was to have a Circle of Support. One of the
long-term issues for me is that I’m not always going to be here to support
Jennie. I wanted to make sure that there were enough people in her life with
the same interests and concerns for her future as me, and who knew her well
enough, who could make the right choices about what she wants when she is
older. This was the reason behind setting up the Circle of Support.
Circles of support and personalisation
Helen facilitated Jennie’s person-centred review and offered to facilitate
the circle for us as well. At the frst meeting Helen introduced us to the
principles of Positive and Productive meetings, and this means that we
have a clear purpose for our meetings, agreed rules, we use ‘rounds’ and
share roles. It is very important to share roles so that everything does not
end up on one person.
When the circle frst started meeting, these were our roles: Dave and I are
there to support Jennie; Matt was the timekeeper; Julie and Debbie provided
food and drinks; Helen was the facilitator; and we take turns to record
meetings. There were a few rules, such as: have fun and food, the meetings are
confdential; speak up and ask questions if things are not clear; be honest and
open about differing opinions and meetings would be held at our house. This is
our ‘Circle Meeting Map’ which we had up at every meeting in the frst year.
I was relieved we were sharing responsibilities because it felt like so much
was already resting on my shoulders with organising reviews and keeping
the Essential Lifestyle Plan up to date.
Once the Circle of Support was established it started to take that weight
off my shoulders. Thinking about the future and how to make it happen
is monumentally stressful for families of disabled children. The transition
from children’s services to adult life is a worry and the circle helped ease
that burden.
I think most of the time I get Jennie’s best interests right but sometimes a
decision might be right for the parent but not necessarily right for the child.
The circle allows other people to challenge me in a safe way by asking ‘is that
right for Jennie?’ and that has been really good for me.
I wanted to see Jennie happy and settled and now the Circle of Support
means I don’t have to worry about her because if I am not around I know
they will continue supporting Jennie and everything we want collectively for
her will carry on. The circle will provide a forum to support Jennie the way I
would like.”
Circles are a natural and human way of organising, that are of beneft to the person,
to the people who participate in the circle, and to the wider community, but this
does not mean that building circles is automatic, easy or cheap. Our experience
is that both pulling together circles, and sustaining circles so that they become
enduring requires persistent work, and that the people who do this work also
require support and resources.
Circles have been given a variety of names and follow different models such
as: ‘Self-Directed Support Corporations’, ‘Microboards’, ‘Circles of Support and
Accountability’, and are similar to methods of organising like ‘Family Group
Conferencing’. While there are some important differences between these ways
Circles of support and personalisation
of organising, they’re all based on a radical form of subsidiarity – taking decision
making power directly to the point closest to the people who will be affected
by that decision. These methods have been shown to encourage independence,
increase resilience and self-reliance, encourage creativity in planning, delivering
support in a way that makes sense for the person, and also an increasing use of
‘natural’ supports.
It’s important not to be doctrinaire and enforce too many rules onto the form or
organisation of circles. Every person’s circle will come together for slightly different
reasons, and fnd their own ways of working together. There is a lot however
that we can learn from the experience of building circles that has been going on,
particularly in the last two or three decades.
Joe’s Circle
Caroline Tomlinson has recently published a powerful account of how she
helped build a circle of support around her son Joe.
She was inspired by Judith Snow who gave her the hard message that
“sometimes you have to invite people into your sons or daughter’s life”.
She was helped to set up her son’s frst circle when he was 8. “As much as the
circle was fantastic I had to organise everything and I started to feel really
tired. As Joe reached the age of 12 the next few years became a blur and I felt
I was yet again having to fght the system. I mustered up the energy and got
Ruth Gorman from Helen Sanderson Associates to facilitate the circle… Ruth
reinvigorated the vision, and the circle really started to come together.
Joe was one of the frst people in the country to self-direct his own support.
He now has a great team of people supporting him, his own home, his own
business, his own car and a great life, but in reality could it be sustained?
Caroline set up a family led organisation called ‘Embrace’ in Wigan & Leigh.
This organisation promotes circles, and where an individual or family would
like a circle, matches them up with a facilitator for a small fee. The fee covers
training, mentoring and paying the facilitator. As more circles are set up,
they are encouraged to come together to give each other mutual support.
“Joe’s security, and my own depend upon his being at the centre of a
network of people who care about what happens to him and will continue to
care about him even after I have gone”
Quotes from Caroline Tomlinson (2012) “Love is simply not enough” Tizard
Learning Disability Review, Vol 17 issue 1 pp26-31
Circles of support and personalisation
What are the principles underpinning circles of support?
Circles are very diverse. They must by their nature reflect much of the culture and
values of the participants, who own the circle together. We do feel however that
there are certain clear principles that are common among circles of support:
1 Purpose: Circles are drawn together by a common purpose and by motivations
that are unique to each individual involved. Overall the purpose of cultivating
circles at scale is to build the capacity of our communities to include and
welcome everyone. In the case of individual circles of support, this deeply
held purpose is to enable the person at its centre to move toward a life
that enables them to achieve their full potentials as a human being and to
participate in their community as a contributing citizen and a valued friend.
2 People: People come to the circle to help build the life of the person and the
strength of the community around them. Those closest to the person come
because of their love or friendship for the person. Others come because they
wish to create and expand community capacity. Some are invited because
they can provide a useful service to the person or the circle, some are paid
service providers.
3 Vision: Circles create a shared vision of the future based on what’s learned
about what is important to the person and who the person is. They fnd ways
to move toward this vision.
4 Capacity: Circles speak the language of capacity. They seek out their own
capacities, the person’s strengths and gifts, and the resources of the
community and fnd ways to appreciate, value and use these gifts to the full.
5 Inclusion: Circles call to the values that lie deepest in our hearts and ask us
to have the courage to express them. The circle is a space of respect and
honesty. We keep working to earn the trust that enables this. Circles are a
practical inclusion tool that expands the capacity of society to welcome and
support all its members.
6 Listening: Everyone in the circle must have time to think, time to speak. The
circle practices listening mindfully and with respect to create a soothing space
where diverse opinions and knowledge can be shared.
7 Thinking: Circles create a thinking environment to think together about
possibilities Spending time together to think is far too rare in social care.
When supporting a person’s whole life, it’s useful to spend a couple of hours
thinking about it’s direction and quality.
8 Learning: The circle has a radical openness to learning; a preparedness to
change anything and everything based on what is discovered during their
interaction with the person and the world.
9 Power: The circle is founded with the aim of establishing ‘power with’ rather
than ‘power over’. An understanding of power and a sharing of roles and
responsibilities helps us generate ‘power to’ and ‘power within’, both in the
circle and in the person at it’s focus.
Circles of support and personalisation
10 Action: The work of the circle leads to actions. Circle members honour the
commitments they make to the person and each other during their time in
the circle.
The role of the ‘circles facilitator’ is to embody these principles deeply in their own
core, and to gently help the circle incorporate these principles into the space they
create together.
Changing the rules without changing the principles
We would like to see circles of support moving from still being a relatively rare and
unusual way of managing a person’s support, to being an option that is accessible
to everyone who uses social care.
A commitment to delivering circles of support at scale, and in a way that is
sustainable will require us to seriously consider the resources that such a change
will need, and whether some of the rules and restrictions that circles practitioners
have sometimes imposed on themselves are still practical or necessary in the era of
personalisation of social care.
One such restriction was a ‘rule’ that everyone in a circle should be unpaid. This rule
made some sense during the frst wave of circles, when they were a mechanism for
operating outside and defending the person from a service-centred system that was
deeply impersonal and inflexible in its approach that relied heavily on the expertise
of professionals and put little or no trust in people, their families or frontline carers.
Suggestions that people who do the work of building and facilitating circles might
be paid for their time were met with objections that this would create a ‘new layer
of professionals’, thus taking power away from the person and their allies.
We feel that the advent of personal budgets and the frst stages of the spread of
person centred thinking into some organisations now means this objection no
longer has as much power as it once did. For example, it could now be possible
for the person and their circle to use a portion of the personal budget to ‘hire
and fre’ the facilitator, facilitation could be offered by a range of community
based organisations, including user-led organisations, centres for independent
living and self-advocacy groups, and the revenue generated by providing such
facilitation could provide these groups with an income stream that gives them more
independence from local authorities. Circle facilitation could also be offered as part
of time-banks or ‘slithers of time’.
Other common arguments that facilitators should be unpaid relate to an idea that
people who are unpaid are likely to have fewer conflicts of interest, and that their
motivation is likely to be “purer”. We do not accept this, conflicts of interest can
extend to many areas beyond money, and a moralistic approach to motivation
simply restricts the number of people who will ever get circles. We believe that in
many, and possibly most, cases, it will be necessary to support a circle by paying the
facilitator so that they are fairly rewarded for the skills they apply and the time they
Circles of support and personalisation
commit to the work of building a person’s supportive network. The likely alternative
to sustaining a circle with a paid facilitator is often ‘frework’ circles that start with
a burst of ideas and optimism, but fzzle out quickly as people realize the weight
of the work involved in sustaining a circle over time against all the obstacles and
challenges, and as that old enemy of change; inertia creeps back in.
Derek’s Circle
Derek is supported by ‘Living Ambitions’: a supported living service.
Living Ambitions helped Derek set up a small circle of support. They wanted
to make sure that Derek had ‘Just enough support’ and felt that a circle
would be a good way of moving from a situation where he was supported
100% by Living Ambitions to getting all the things he could share when being
supported by a really powerful circle.
Derek used a PATH to decide on his ambitions for the future. These included
raising money for charity, improving his woodworking skills, setting up his
own woodworking business, having his own business cards and including his
partner in all this.
Derek is now a registered fundraiser for the epilepsy society, has designed
his own business cards, has his own wood workshop, is growing his business,
and has been featured in the local newspaper and the council website. He has
made more friends and is doing more things on his own, without support.
Jodie who facilitates Derek’s circle said that some people had criticised the
fact that some of its members (including her) are being paid, arguing that
everyone in a circle should be unpaid. Jodie said “I just asked those people
to look at what Derek and his circle have achieved. We would like to see it
being made a contractual requirement of supported living services that they
help the people they support to increase local community capital by building
circles with them”
Derek said “I have other dreams and ambitions and my Circle are still
meeting to help me think about them and ways I can achieve them – I’m
looking forward to the future!”
Circles of support and personalisation
What works and does not work about paid and unpaid circles facilitators?
Cheaper – no cost.
Closeness of facilitator to
Avoids some conflicts of
Unselfnterested motivation of
Facilitator can be required to
work to a particular standard,
be trained to a particular level –
if the circle wishes.
Person/circle can fre the
facilitator and hire another!
Accountability to the circle:
easier to ask a person you pay
to change the way they work
Facilitator is rewarded for their
work, including some of the
administration of the circle
Stability/longevity of circle:
becomes ‘enduring’. Could
continue during absence of
main carer.
Skilled facilitators help develop
many new circles.
Can be repeated at scale, if a
source of funding can be found
‘Invest to save’, a circle
plans how to use its various
resources to meet the person’s
needs and aspirations most
effectively, immediately and
over the long term.
Where the
is unpaid
Where the
facilitator is paid by
the person or the
Doesn’t work
Family and person feel beholden
to facilitator.
Feeling of obligation to repay
the facilitator in other ways.
What happens when facilitator
gets another job, moves away?
Other conflicts of int erest
If facilitator is also a main
carer, ends up with two jobs
– both providing support and
organising circle.
How is the facilitator held
Unlikely to work at scale, as
people who can consistently
work for nothing are thin on the
Finding ways to pay the
Does the facilitator become ‘just
another professional’?
Questions about motivation of
the facilitator.
Where will the money come from?
Are people confdent enough
in the power and effectiveness
of circles to invest money in a
circles facilitator?
Circles of support and personalisation
Ways of establishing and sustaining circles
• Person and allies build a circle and sustain it without any outside intervention.
• Person and allies are given information and support to set up and sustain their
own circle.
• Person and allies are helped by someone who facilitates their frst circle
meeting, offers facilitation training to someone within the circle, then leaves
them to get on with it.
• Person and allies are helped by someone who facilitates several circles
meetings, offers facilitation training to someone within the circle then leaves
them to get on with it, sometimes offering advice and support from outside
when requested.
• Person and allies are helped to build a circle, then helped to sustain it over the
long term by a ‘permanent’ facilitator (an ‘enduring circle’).
Key: building enough flexibility into the model so that people can move up and
down the levels of facilitator engagement in a way that suits their approach to
It’s likely that the more isolated, disempowered, underestimated and excluded
the person has been, the more work it will take to build a circle of committed allies
around that person, but also the more valuable to the person and to the community
every new connection will be.
Overcoming social isolation is the one change in health and social care that has
the longest list of positive outcomes; with the immense positive impact it has on
the person in terms of physical and mental health, and their ability to fnd ways to
contribute their own gifts to the community.
People often begin to see the need for circles in times of crisis. Circles come into
their own when they become an regular thinking mechanism for everyday life.
2 What is the contribution of Circles of Support to
delivering personalisation and creating social capital
Impact on the Person
People organising and thinking in circles have a wide variety of impacts on the
person, as diverse as the people they focus on. By thinking outside the more
limited options presented by traditional service delivery, people can think in a
more practical problem solving way. At their best they enable people to sustain
responsibilities as well as rights, and to contribute to their families and the wider
Circles organised across North West England provide us with learning around this:
Circles of support and personalisation
In Lancashire a report written on the initial impact of circles at ‘West
Lancashire Positive Living’ recounts stories that include how a person was
enabled to reduce the number of personal assistants he uses from 2:1 down
to 1:1, and is now thinking of launching his own small business, another person
was helped by the circle to move into a supported living environment, with
the circle acting as a control over how his support is delivered. His parents
report that this has massively increased his self-confdence.
Impact on others
Another person already had a person centred plan, but nothing seemed to be
happening with it. Getting a circle started meant that the person and his allies were
able to thrash out important family issues, and they could now start movement on
wills and trusts.
Other people are reporting that meeting in circles has helped them do the thinking
they need to obtain an individual budget and organise genuinely self-directed
3 Ideas for Circles of Support at scale
Building many more circles than exist today will require the engagement of far more
people into this activity. In particular it will require people with values, skills and
motivation to carry out the work of convening and facilitating the circle.
Standing up in front of a group, and asking questions in a way that helps that group
think with the person mindfully, respectfully, creatively is a particular skill that
requires effort to learn and constant refreshment and renewal, and is supported by
being among a community of others following the same path to avoid bad habits
and complacency, to share learning and to reafrm commitment.
Encouraging the development of a layer of circles facilitators will in itself require
creativity, effort and resources, though it is not necessarily about creating
something completely new. There are already a layer of people in the UK who
have skills in person centred thinking and planning, who are committed to ideas
of personalisation and inclusion, and people with experience of facilitating circles
who could share these skills and experiences more widely if they are supported to
do so. The Circles of Support model fts very naturally with the idea of ‘Local Area
Coordination’ which aims to build and maintain formal and informal community
Who could provide facilitation and support for circles?
• Existing circles: Where existing circles have been working successfully, the
people who have been part of this success can share their learning with others
who face similar situations.
Circles of support and personalisation
• Family members who participate in courses like ‘Partners in Policymaking’
could apply what they learn in to supporting their own relative, but also to
someone else outside their family, spreading and sharing the learning.
• Local social enterprises/voluntary groups/community organisations: These
groups seem at the same time to be invested by our social care system with
increasingly high hopes and increasingly sparse resources. They have immense
advantages from the point of view of building circles, in that they are often
more willing and more free to experiment and innovate. Their footprint in the
community means they are capable of deep local knowledge which could be a
huge asset to the circles they support.
We all know however that despite a pervasive rhetoric of ‘stronger citizen
control’, such organisations typically live a perilous ‘hand to mouth’ existence,
from funding application to funding application, surviving often on grim
determination and the strength of people’s hearts. Providing paid facilitation
services to people could become an important revenue stream for these
groups. The crucial social capital that these groups embody would thus be
• Existing providers could release certain staff for a few hours every month to
help facilitate circles. The experience and skills they gain through this activity
will be benefcial to the organisation, and be a method of them exercising
corporate social responsibility. Organisations would need to undertake
this with the expectation that this will have a big impact on the people
they release. Such people are likely to beneft from deep learning from the
circles they engage in, and bring that learning back to their organisations,
challenging them to grow and adapt to the new person-centred paradigm.
Some organisations have positively embraced the change this brings. Others
might fnd it more difcult. Provider organisations could be involved in circles
of support in other ways, for example by providing paid services to Circles of
Support, for example, book-keeping or training is another possibility.
IAS (a provider in Greater Manchester) actively supports staff and
managers to be involved in circles of support. They worked with a familyled organisation to train circle facilitators, and make these available to
local families who wanted to set up a circle around their son or daughter.
As well as this, they brought together local established circles in the area
to ask what would help more circles develop. One of the issues that came
from that was how hard it can be for Circles to manage the ‘business’ side
of employing and supporting staff. IAS responded to this by developing a
costed ‘offer’ to Circles and people who have personal budgets listing the
support that they can offer. This includes management support for Circles,
where a manager supports the staff on behalf of the Circle, or mentors an
existing manager.
Circles of support and personalisation
• Trainee social work students, trainee nurses, AHPs, as a key part of their
training (and possibly beyond this time).
There exists a whole layer of young enthusiastic people wishing to gain a
professional qualifcation, and hoping to use it to make a big difference in
people’s lives. We also know that many family carers already appreciate
the opportunity to support students on placements with them as this is an
opportunity to share the reality of life from the point of view of people and
their carers. A radical shift in how future professionals are trained could give
them even more potential to meet and engage with people and their families
in a meaningful way. Introducing a requirement to participate in a circle as
part of a student’s training would shift some of focus of training from the
Ofce, Classroom and hospital directly into the community; it would provide
the student with a person-focused point of view of how services are delivered.
As both social and health care aspire to become increasingly focused in the
community and at the community level, it makes sense to change the way
students are trained in order to reflect this shift. It will be important here
however that the circle itself is able to choose who should facilitate their
circle, and to change this if it is not working for the person.
The ‘circle of support’ is a model that has enormous potential to enhance the lives
of many more people, and to increase the capacity of the community to welcome
people with disabilities and other social and health needs. In order for this to
happen two main things need to change. Firstly person centred practitioners need
to become much more willing to be flexible in how we apply the model, so that the
benefts of circles can be shared at scale.
Secondly we need to recognise that circles will not build themselves or necessarily
be easy to build. Most circles will need a conscious intervention and resources to
explain their benefts, train facilitators, create them and sustain them over time so
that their full effectiveness can be felt. Every way of delivering these resources so
that individuals can build a circle as a key component of their package of support
needs to be explored.
Circles harness human warmth and human creativity and apply it to a purpose. In
enabling improved support and improved lives so that more people can contribute
to our communities they also enhance community connections and capacity; they
help us build the interconnected, interdependent, resilient communities that must
sustain mutual human support through these challenging times.
Max Neill and Helen Sanderson, Summer 2012
Circles of support and personalisation
Appendix 1: Circles in Practice, Caroline Tomlinson on
her experience of building a cluster of circles
“The circles concept can play a huge part in getting a good life for individuals who
need support and their families, but what about those people who are not as well
connected or who don’t have any friends or family? This was a question I thought
long and hard about in my quest to get ordinary people a good life. Taking the
PLAN institute model in Canada we adapted the process to work in England and
developed the ‘Our Futures’ model initially in Wigan which is now rolling out across
the country.
The model is simple, for each circle of support we have a facilitator who is paid for
by the family or the individual themselves. Why paid? well it is simple if you pay
someone to do a job you expect a certain quality and if you don’t like what you
get you can replace them. Each facilitator works with 1 circle, this is to ensure each
facilitator can concentrate on developing a circle unique and meaningful to the
individual and their family.
To recruit families and facilitators we needed a local host organisation who was
trusted by families, the obvious choice was Embrace Wigan and Leigh who had
working in the locality for many years. Their role was to fnd local people who
wanted a circle of support, to train the facilitators, co-ordinate the process and
provide ongoing mentoring and support.
Encouraging some early adopters took a lot of energy and encouragement, but
once one or two families got going with circles word got out. In fact we had
recruited several families and didn’t have enough facilitators, so effort needed to
be put into recruiting local people to be facilitators. This process was helped by
working with local providers of services who had a good person centred reputation
and some skilled staff who wanted to be facilitators. We developed a ‘trade off’
where staff could be released to be trained as facilitators for local people who
didn’t receive support from their organisation and in return other local facilitators
would facilitate a circle for people who they supported.
The facilitator training was given which emphasised people living a good life
through positive friendships and relationships. We based the training on a model of
hospitality and concentrated on developing a circle, person centred tools, effective
mediation skills and keeping a circle alive and productive. As each circle meeting
was held the facilitators were brought together to be supported and mentored, this
provided excellent peer support and enabled the coordinator to keep track of what
was working and was not working.
The outcome has been that 30 circles are now up and running in Wigan and some
of them have been going for several years. Individuals and families have described
the process as initially scary, but have been able to address the issue of who will be
there for my family member when something happens to me? They also describe
how the present has changed, how they are exploring many ways to give their
relative a good life that they would have never have done.
Circles of support and personalisation
Here are some of the stories so far:
Pauls Pondering Posse
Paul has a circle that has been set up in the last few months, so that his
mum and dad and their non-disabled daughter could have peace of mind
if anything should happen to mum and dad. They had wanted a circle for
years but didn’t think it would be possible to do. The big issue for them was
who would you ask and would people be interested. The facilitator Kevin
really made this work and reassured them throughout the process. What
they never anticipated was that when they set up the circle there would be
so many on-going issues that they were struggling to deal with; the circle
has really helped on a practical and emotional level and is making the whole
family feel much more confdent about the future.
Jenny’s Jolly Jaunts
A circle has been set up for Jenny, a young lady with very complex needs.
She’s in her fnal year of college within a special school setting. Both mum
and dad were very anxious about their daughter’s future and hadn’t got
confdence in a social worker giving the family the best options for their
daughter. Where she lives, transition social workers still only get involved
with the individual six months before they leave college at 19.
After just two circle meetings and lots of tasks completed by the circle
members this young lady has more options available now than she can ft
into a week. Ironically, most of the activities are part of universal services
which is fantastic considering this young lady’s complex disability. We held a
circle meeting last night and mum and dad said they are quite overwhelmed
by what the circle has achieved in such a short space of time, and they
couldn’t measure just how much pressure the circle has taken off the family.
How long do we wait for the Invite?
A single parent heard a presentation from Our Futures and took the
information away with her. She then got in contact with us four months
later. She wanted a circle for both her son and daughter because mum has
started to have concerns regarding the future and if anything should happen
to her. Both her son and daughter currently live at home and have no plans
for moving out in the future. Both her son and daughter have a learning
disability, but if anything should happen to mum they would be able to live
together without support except for someone popping in now and again.
What mum’s main concern is, that If anything should happen to her son and
daughter they wouldn’t fnancially be able to continue living in their current
Circles of support and personalisation
home. She feels that if they need to move they would be left vulnerable and
could be open to fnancial abuse.
At frst she was struggling to think of anyone who would want to sit on
a circle. However, after spending a bit of time with the coordinator she
came up with 5 names. We have held one circle meeting to date. One circle
member said we have been waiting to be invited in because we didn’t know
how to approach you. Mum said that she didn’t ask in case people thought
she couldn’t cope. Again, at the circle meeting, day to day issues came up and
mum had tried to sort some of the issues out but was struggling. Although it
was the frst circle meeting 3 members have taken on tasks to help the family
move forward. These issues have all now been addressed.
What about people whose family are not interested?
Carly has just turned 22 years old and has had a life of shared care between
the state and her family. Carly has a moderate learning disability and went
to a special school, but her support needs were heightened by her chaotic
family life.
Carly spent much of her childhood between council respite units and living
at home. When Carly turned 18 years old her family were persecuted by a
frebomb at their home and this separated the family. The only option was
for Carly to live in a hostel with 36 other people who all were signifcantly
older than her.
Carly was extremely unhappy, she didn’t know many people and her family
no longer wanted contact with her. Having known Carly for several years
to get out of the crisis situation, we felt the best thing would be set to up
the circle, even though this would be our frst it was worth a try. The circle
was made up of several people who had known Carly in school and different
places she went to. In the frst instance the circle managed to secure some
direct payments and manage the payments so she could have at least have
some quality time with personal assistants outside of the hostel. Eventually
the circle managed to support her move into her own home and have been
critical in terms of ensuring she can access and contribute to her community.
The circle is as strong as ever 4 years down the line and has supported Carly with
the of struggles where she lives and who she lives with. The circle are helping
Carly look for an alternative place to live in the future, but are supporting her to
get it right. They assist her with her making choices on how to spend her money,
getting her staff team to understand her and have recently enabled her to meet
back up with her Mum again. By no means is Carly’s life sorted but the circle has
her vision at the heart of everything they do.
Circles of support and personalisation
What happens when I’m gone?
Brendan is in his 40s and found himself in residential care. His Mum had died
years before and his Dad had just died suddenly. Brendan wanted a circle
but the people paid to be in his life resisted like anything. To cut a long story
short the circle has fnally got going after negotiating long and hard with the
paid staff, and is working on a plan for Brendan to live with someone out of
the residential care unit that he gets on with really well. They are looking for
property near where he used to live and hope to be in their own home for
What happens when I’m long gone?
Bernard is 62 and his family have either died or live abroad. He has lived on
his own for years and has been supported by a provider who recognised
he didn’t have many people in his life, just paid support. A circle started to
evolve as the facilitator recognised some of Bernard’s interests. Bernard was
an avid world war fan and so the facilitator has got a local group of veterans
involved, some folk from the local supermarket distribution centre and other
local people. The circle are in the early stages of building a relationship with
Bernard, but already he is chatting more, is certainly more sparky and a glint
seems to have some into his eye.
So to conclude
The circles have in some instances moved mountains, given people a feeling of
security or have simply cheered people up. It is early days, but what we are seeing
is a very real concept that whatever shape or form the circle takes, it is providing
something which has never existed before.
The people at the heart of the circles and their family and friends are feeling much
safer and secure. They say they can’t believe how such a simple concept seems to
be so effective. The effectiveness we believe is that it is owned, loved and cared for
by families. We don’t profess it is the right solution for everyone nor do we think
it should become a standardised practice. Our Futures is a concept and idea for
people to think about and certainly is not the only way people can develop a circle
of support, however it provides the infrastructure for offering people peace of mind
should they wish to take it.
For more information contact:
Caroline Tomlinson
07947 608 915

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