The Solva Care Toolkit

4 – Solva Care: getting started

How to dive in and keep afloat in the early stages of your project!

In this chapter of our Toolkit, we are going to share our experience of the early stages of our project; getting from a brilliant idea, to the community knowing about it and contributing to the details, and finally making it all a reality.

There are many resources out there to help you plan. The charity Locality has a simple one which you can use. Some of the tools make the planning process seem simple and sequential, but we found it more complex than that. Our small working group worked almost instinctively, drawing on past experience in our lives. Once we decided that we wanted to help others, and there was support in the community for our broad idea – supporting older people – we moved forward quickly with ‘quick wins’, and with the minimum of emphasis on paperwork. This of course changed after we received funding and became, in the eyes of funding bodies, to all intents and purposes an ‘organisation’!

On reflection, these were some of the key things that were done to get the project off the ground:

Building support and consensus in the community for the idea

Mollie, our founder, talked with lots of people in the community about the idea of an initiative to support older people that would fill the gaps currently unfilled, or not filled well, by the local social services department. She also talked with people in the voluntary, health and social care sectors to see how an idea like Solva Care would fit in with policy, what support would be available – if any – and to glean ideas to bring back to the community. Alongside all the networking, she formed a small working group of interested people to take the project forward. The working group started with a survey of the support and care received by the residents within the parishes of Solva and Whitchurch. The survey was undertaken by volunteers, with printing costs met by the Community Council who were very supportive from the outset. A local, retired academic undertook the analysis.

Bearing in mind that our initial ideas were to set up a voluntary support service, and create a non-profit making domiciliary care company, these were the issues we wanted to investigate:

For those in receipt of care: who provides their personal care, how often, for what length of time, and how was it funded?
Is there a need for respite care?
Are some households already in receipt of non-personal care?
Would people use ‘Solva Care’ for non-personal care, what type of care would they use it for, and where would ‘Solva Care’ fall in their preference for sources of care?
Are people generally supportive of the idea of ‘Solva Care’?
Have they any ideas that they could contribute to shaping the project, and if so what are they?
Are they willing to volunteer?
A draft questionnaire for self completion was developed and tested with a few people to see if it worked well. Following adjustments, the final version was distributed by the group of volunteers who deliver the monthly village newsletter to all households. Briefing was provided for the volunteers on answers to possible questions raised by residents at the door; how to provide support in filling it out, if required; and to follow up on those who had not returned the questionnaire within the specified timescale.

The survey was very important in enabling us to move forward with confidence. The response to the survey was marvellous with a whopping eighty-six percent of people returning a completed questionnaire. The high response rate indicated the interest in, and growing support for, what we were doing.

The graph shows the numbers of people indicating their preferences for sources of support. Two hundred and seventy-five people answered the question. As to be expected, most preferred their families to provide support but, taking the first and secondary preferences together, more people opted for ‘Solva Care’ than any other source of care. We fed the results of our survey back the community, used them at various stages in our planning, and as a case for obtaining funding to appoint a coordinator.

We repeated the survey two years after formally launching our project; this time including questions on what people thought of Solva Care.

We participated in other research studies too. Soon after starting, we heard that Cardiff University was embarking on case study research on social enterprises, which was how we characterised ourselves then. We put ourselves forward and were selected as one of the two case studies investigated in Wales. The full report is available in the resources section of our website. They provided useful insights by an independent research team on the challenges involved in setting up an initiative like ours. The research study concluded that social enterprises were:

‘strong on social value, can benefit services and communities and could increase their share of social care provision. But … they have unmet support needs, are disadvantaged in tendering and require policy changes and pragmatic solutions’.

These findings were useful in our discussions with policy makers and funders to progress the financial and non-financial support needs of our project.

Forming a team and getting ‘organised’

The team grew, with new people joining and offering different and complementary skills to the project. We started to have regular meetings to allocate time-limited tasks, and took notes at each one. It quickly became apparent, given the numbers of people wanting to volunteer (30 plus), that we would need a coordinator, at least on a part-time basis. This meant that we needed to secure funding for a paid post and, if the project was successful in the first two ‘pilot project’ years, seek continuation funding. This set the agenda for our short-term priorities and the creation of two sub groups, namely Funding and Research & Evaluation. Our plan to create our own domiciliary company required complex business-planning skills, and this brought us into contact with Social Firms Wales who helped us to start thinking through the financial implications of our plans.

Communicating with others

We kept the community informed with updates in our monthly village newsletter, and at various events such as the village coffee mornings. We listened to people’s ideas and concerns, and acted on them where possible. All invitations were accepted to present what we were doing at various committees of statutory organisations and their partnerships, although it was frustrating that implementation of supportive policies was slow to materialise. We also had articles about Solva Care published in local newspapers; good news stories that others would be interested in. The preparation stage of our project involving engagement with the community, fact finding, and networking with organisations and agencies took almost two years, but was worth it.

Reviewing our legal status

The time came when we had to review and decide on the legal status of Solva Care. Comprehensive information can be found on the Wales Council for Voluntary Action’s (WCVA) website, but the importance and complexity of the issues meant that we preferred to turn to the experts again to fully understand the options available to us. Our relationship with Social Firms Wales was good, and they had developed an in-depth knowledge of our community and what we were setting out to achieve, so they were the best choice of organisation to work with. They took a team from our committee through the pros and cons of each option – see the summary in the resources section of our website – an exercise which led us to opt to register as a charity.

Some recommendations:

Take time to fully engage with your community to gauge the support for the project and what form it should take.
The workload builds up alarmingly for a few people at the start. Seek out people who have the skills you need on a one-off, or better still, longer-term basis.
It is not possible to completely plan for the future. Sometimes it is best to let your project evolve. It will work out alright in the end.
Talking with people is the very best option, but consider a survey by self-completed questionnaire to gather information systematically and to extend your reach in the community. Bear in mind that such a survey is very labour intensive and incurs some costs. It is worth making contact with a college or university to see if they are able to help. The Wales School for Social Care Research (WSSCR) and Health and Care Research Wales (HCRW) should be able to signpost you.
Consider whether you really need grant funding, and when. It is often short term and usually comes with onerous time-consuming bureaucratic requirements.
Build in research and evaluation from the start. You will generate useful evidence for how to go forward and for stating a case for funding.
Be patient. Build relationships with statutory organisations and help them find solutions to deliver social care policy. Policies give communities a key role in planning and in social care provision, but implementation has a long way to go to catch up.
Forge a good working relationship with a helping organisation that you trust. They will be invaluable in helping you develop your plans and to refine your governance arrangements.
Consider participating in national projects e.g. ‘Time Credits’ by the charity Spice or ‘Men’s Sheds’ from the charity UK Men’s Sheds Association. We have not done so, as they do not fit with our grass roots approach, but for some they are useful in getting started.
Drop the label ‘project’ as soon as you can demonstrate success. Your initiative is not temporary. You are in it for the ride!

Sue Denman, Solva Care Trustee

Toolkit Chapter 4

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