First implemented in 2015, the Micro-Enterprises scheme was initially piloted as part of a wider initiative to transform Adult Social Care Services. Thurrock Council was aware that in the face of increasing demand and pressure on budgets, there needed to be a more creative response to meeting ongoing demand. What prompted the pilot scheme was the recognition that there was a limited choice of services for local people - local residents were looking for more than just ensuring that their statutory needs were being met.
Thurrock’s Micro-Enterprise scheme has fitted well with other place and strengths-based initiatives. Examples include Local Area Co-Ordination and Community Hubs which have enabled us to develop services that are diverse, bespoke and based upon our growing evidence base of what our communities value and require.
The Micro-Enterprises programme focuses on finding residents who want to support others in their local community and helps them to set up their chosen service. They are supported to do so by a co-ordinator who provides advice and ongoing assistance. Now approaching its sixth year, the scheme is continuing to support community choice and, in addition, provides opportunity for employment in the local area.
Aims and Objectives
The main aim of the scheme is to ensure that self-directed support becomes a reality. The focus is to ensure that people can be well connected within their local community and can find the majority of support that they need in their own area. The scheme promotes independence by ensuring residents can choose the support they want and need from a range of services and they control when and how the support is provided. The ultimate goal is that people needing support can be creative in meeting their own needs.
Emphasis is given to local residents who offered services for people at risk of social isolation; particularly those offering personalised services in the home or that linked into the community - indeed this remains the biggest growth area of Micro-Enterprises. By linking people with a lunch club, having someone do their shopping or taking them out to meet others ensures that people are not isolated and can make or re-make those community connections that are so essential to enjoying a “good life”. These services also meet the prevention agenda; any issues that are identified can be addressed early on and can avoid the crises that can occur when people are unsupported.
Financial costs of care and support services are high and increasing, and there is no question that investing in preventative services is essential. Small services such as lunch clubs, knit and natters, social groups and afternoon teas are easy to set up and can be hugely successful in avoiding the loneliness and disconnect that often occurs in old age.
An additional benefit is that the scheme has provided opportunities for self-employment and voluntary opportunities for many local people. People may have a hobby or a passion they want to explore as a way of earning an income or increasingly seeing working from home as a way of achieving a better life/work balance. For example, working with the local Disability Work Advisor at the DWP has seen a number of people with disabilities who have been unable to access traditional job opportunities being able to enter into work for the first time.
Culture change has been central to the success of Micro-Enterprises and work was undertaken with staff and partners to introduce the scheme as part of the ongoing adult social care transformation programme. This involved workshops and other events where staff and partners were encouraged to “Meet the Micros” and to understand how important they were to ensuring a diverse range of service provision in Thurrock.
There were some reservations, naturally, about a new scheme but these have been overcome, mainly through the quality of the work carried out by specific services and the fact they have often been able to offer bespoke solutions to some complex care and support situations. There has also been a corresponding increase in the number of direct payments being taken which is testament to the interest in the scheme.
Publicity has been key to ensuring the visibility and the availability of services. It was a challenge in the early days to get this right, but this was resolved in partnership with Thurrock Community and Voluntary Services (CVS) who have supported the development of a monthly booklet of services which is available online and in community outlets.
Achievement and Future Goals
The Thurrock Micro-Enterprise programme is now in its sixth year and more than 140 services are now available for local residents. There is a very diverse range on offer from personal care to lunch clubs, gardeners and handymen to leisure and fitness activities. All are community focussed and provide a wide choice. Many services are run by volunteers and therefore the ability to pay is not a key issue.
The scheme has also been a vehicle for wider partnership - “Re-Engage” - the charity that provides afternoon teas for people in the homes of others has linked with the scheme, and the Council has loaned its minibus fleet to enable them to transport people to and from their events. The Council has also made available community halls free of charge, provided equipment and leased land to enable specific Micro-Enterprises to set up and provide much needed community services.
So what is the future? There is ongoing interest in the scheme especially as we move out of lockdown and people are reassessing their lives. The scheme has already provided opportunities for people who have been made redundant and there are plans to work alongside the DWP and other local business re-start initiatives to offer the scheme as a potential for employment. Many other local authorities have sought our expertise and are also now implementing similar schemes to the Micro-Enterprises we have created in Thurrock.
The importance of employment is recognised as a key factor in the promotion of well-being. There are many examples of how Micro-Enterprises have supported people who felt they were unemployable to set up their own service and earn an income. Future work will build on this to explore how the scheme can be expanded to increase this impact further.
Whilst the primary aim of supporting the development of new services will continue, there is recognition the community are keen to develop their own projects, based on the needs they see locally. The scheme is keen to support this and will work with partners to ensure it can facilitate community-led projects requiring more intensive work.
Thurrock’s Micro-Enterprises are part of a tangible and successful, innovative and collaborative approach to health and care transformation that delivers on all aspects, whether they be a vehicle for people realising a passion or a way of obtaining care and support that is personalised to the individual.