9 reasons why I am excited about the potential of Community Circles to make a difference.

Many people with dementia are lonely, bored and have little in their lives that feels purposeful. A Community Circle is an evidence-based approach, that has been shown to enable people living with dementia to do more of what matters to them and feel less isolated. Here are 9 reasons why I am excited about the potential of Community Circles to make a difference.

1) Circles are both old and new

The concept of Circles of Support is not new. The first  Circle of Support (also known as Circle of Friends) was developed in Canada, to support Judith Snow, a disabled woman, to move from a nursing home to her own apartment (Forest & Snow 1983). A Circle brings together a  small group of people  (between 2 and 1s people –  family, friends and staff) who come together to support a person, helping them to identify what they would like to do or change in their life and then supporting them to make this happen. Although the concept of Circles of Support has been around for over three decades, and with the best efforts of organisations like Circles Network, there are still relatively few in the UK. Community Circles is a charity dedicated to changing this – and seeking to make sure that Circles of Support are available everywhere, for anyone who wants one, and that people living with dementia benefit from them.

2) Circles are evidence-based

The NDTi and Innovations in Dementia led a three-year project which took place in four areas of the South of England and was funded by the Department of Health’s Innovation Excellence and Service Development fund. They found that: people living with dementia who took part in the project are doing more of what they want and feeling less isolated. Other positive outcomes include the creation of mutual peer support groups, improved relationships with carers and enhanced social networks. This enhanced support can help people to achieve outcomes such as continuing to live at home and sustaining employment. Staff at partner organisations are thinking and acting differently; more broadly and creatively, focussing on networks, and having different conversations about people’s lives. You can read more about this in the Journal of Dementia Care Jan/Feb 2015.

The London School of Economics also researched Circles of Support and found that they promoted well-being and major psychological and practical outcomes for the person and their family.

3) Circles are outcome-focused and enable people to do what matters to them

Each Community Circle begins with a purpose – what does the person want to change or achieve?  May is in her eighties and lives with 43 other people with dementia in a care home. The purpose of her Community Circle was to get singing again. May is now part of her local Community Choir, goes to choir practice on Sundays and has taken part in two performances.

Helen and May

This is supported by the NDTi research that says:

“People are doing more of the things they want to do, such as regular walking and visiting local attractions. In many cases this has come from bringing people and information together to connect to new people and opportunities.”

4) Circles are examples of coproduction in practice

Think Local Act Personal says: The term co-production refers to a way of working, whereby everybody works together on an equal basis to create a service or come to a decision which works for them all. It is built on the principle that those who use a service are best placed to help design it.

A Circle does this by the person deciding who they want to invite to their circle, and what they want to achive through their circle. At the circle meetings people think together about:

  • Who is in that person’s life – and who they would like in their life
  • What the person does – and what they would like to do
  • Where the person goes – and where they would like to go
  • How they can contribute and how other people can support them
  • What matters to them person – what is important to them

The NDTi research shows that Circles enhance a person’s voice.

Other outcomes have included enabling mutual and peer support, strengthened voice, support to continue living at home”

5) Circles build dementia friendly communities from the person out

Another key finding from the NDTi research is that “This approach can really help people with dementia to increase or maintain contact with personal and community networks”

Researcher, Alison Macadam shares that “part of this project, their natural networks are very small or remote: friends and family had often drifted away or died. We found that involving and linking people is not always easy, but the majority of people with dementia involved in the project (46 out of 48) were able to meet new people and strengthen existing connections”.

Community Circles contribute to building dementia friendly communities in two ways, through the members of the Community Circle, and where the purpose of a circle is to help people connect, as you can see from Lynda’s story.

Lynda is living with dementia, the purpose of her circle is to help her feel more connected with her community. Through ideas suggested at her circle meetings, Lynda now volunteers for a local walking group, combining her love of walking and fresh air with her welcoming nature, supporting new members to the group and feeling valued for her contribution.


Through Community Circles, people naturally learn how to be with, gently support and connect with someone who lives with dementia, both as part of the circle and in their community too.

6) Circles support carers too

The NDTi research shows just how important Circles can be for carers: “Support from a Circle can also make a crucial difference to carers, helping them feel supported and that they don’t have to be left to do everything. As with many approaches to good support for people living with dementia, it seems that the earlier a Circles approach can be adopted, the more likely it is to be beneficial.” This was certainly Alan’s experience.

Alan is a full time carer for his wife, Lynda, who is living with dementia.  At one circle meeting they looked at what’s working well and what’s not working; Alan mentioned he was struggling with cooking, something he’s never done which Lynda isn’t able to do any more.  The circle shared ideas about how they could support Lynda and Alan and they decided to develop their own casserole club. Now each circle member a couple of times a month makes an extra portion of food to freeze and share to support Lynda and Alan to have home cooked food.


7) Circles help families and friends

It can be very hard to ask for help, and both people living with dementia and their carers can find this difficult. Equally families may not know how to help or how to offer either. A Community Circle is a way to support those conversations. This is what a friend from Lynda’s circle said ,”It’s brought issues up, we know what to do to help, it’s made room for action”

8) Circles also benefit facilitators and improve their well-being

A report by Corporate Citizenship in 2010, found that by supporting employees to volunteer regularly, individuals developed a number of key skills that were transferrable to their roles. Staff listed the following skills as ones they developed through being a volunteer: an improvement in communication skills, the ability to coach and support others, adaptability, influencing and negotiation skills. The New Economics Foundation found that there are 5 Ways to improve our well-being, and two of these are ‘Give’ and ‘Connect’.

Therefore Community Circles help people who are part of Circles and who facilitate them to enhance their well-being and develop skills.

9) Circles can contribute to changing how we provide health and social care in the future

We are exploring different ways that Community Circles can make a positive difference in the lives of people with dementia. Here are some examples:

  • Hospital discharge – we are working in two areas to see how Community Circles can be available to support people with dementia as they leave hospital.
  • Virtual wards – we are partnering with a virtual ward and offering Community Circles there.
  • Home care – we have funding for a Community Circles Co-ordinator to be based with a homecare agency to support people with Community Circles to help people live at home for longer through community support.
  • Care homes – we have funding for a Community Circles Co-ordinator to be based within a care home, so enable people to stay connected with their community and keep family and friends involved

There is some great work happening to build community with and around people living with dementia. I hope that Community Circles can play a role in supporting people living with dementia to connect, do more of what matters to them, to have a purpose and make a contribution. Maybe this is another way to develop dementia friendly communities too?

Helen Sanderson


Giving, connecting, appreciating

For the past twelve months I’ve shared Mary’s story and how her Community Circle has supported her to reconnect at church and be part of her parish community.  Over the months we’ve learned what good support for Mary looks like, spent time nurturing relationships and been intentional about inviting people into Mary’s life.  I’d really like to share our appreciation for the members of her parish who have become part of Mary’s circle.

It started with an email address…

The contact details for members of the SVP (St Vincent de Paul Society) were in the church’s newsletter, members of the church who visit people in the parish or offer help where needed.  I sent an email introducing myself and Community Circles.    A few emails later led to a face to face meeting where we chatted more about Community Circles and what we hoped to achieve for Mary.

Mary was regularly attending church and we were conscious to support Mary to meet people at the service.  Mary was also reconnecting with people at the Welcome Club.  People at the club remembered Mary and were very welcoming, supporting Mary to have extra time choosing her raffle prizes.

Members of the SVP began to visit Mary at home, spending time getting to know her and taking an interest in her life.  Prior to this the only people Mary had in her life were those that were paid to be with her and we know that however great that support is, quality often comes from natural relationships based on share interests.

It’s lovely to see that Mary now has people in her life, with the shared interest of their faith, people who come and spend time with her and who genuinely take an interest in her well being.  Mary’s visitors from church now come to her circle meetings too, taking an active role in sharing ideas of how we can support Mary well.

I really appreciate the time that people give to visiting Mary and even though Mary doesn’t use many words to speak, she is fully included in the conversations.  Her friends have used different ways to support conversation with Mary, sharing magazines and photos on an Ipad.  It’s a real pleasure seeing the connections Mary now has in her life.

Sometimes a circle can start small and often we have to be intentional about inviting people into someone’s life.  It’s great to open the door to new relationships.

“I think that Mary’s circle alone should persuade people of the power of a circle. I was so delighted to see her friends from church there this time. Her life looks so much fuller.”

Katherine Runswick-Cole, Senior Research Fellow in Disability Studies & Psychology, Manchester Metropolitan University

Thank you to the SVP members at St Vincents for their contributions to Mary’s circle and making a difference.


Cath Barton

Community Circles Connector

Alternative Futures Group


Contributions and more

Alternative Futures Group are the first provider to invest in a full time Community Circles Connector in Rochdale. It’s fantastic for Community Circles to have a dedicated post where we can develop circles of support at scale and share learning.  We know that people are asking for circles of support to be more available and we are responding to that request.  For Alternative Futures Group the Community Circles Connector post is in response to listening to what the people they support said was important to them; having friends and relationships in their lives.

For many people relationships and connections develop naturally, for others, often people with a label of disability, relationships aren’t as naturally occurring and we need to be intentional about inviting people into someone life.  We need to be consciously recognising and supporting people’s gifts and talents so they can make a contribution in their local community, developing a valued role and connections.

My role as Community Circles Connector is to work with the people supported by Alternative Futures Group, who have a learning disability and also as part of our corporate social responsibility, to work with people who are living with dementia in Rochdale.

Our work within Alternative Futures Group focuses on the people we support, enabling them to have great lives with the support that makes sense to them.  We are also conscious that the work we do creates ripples throughout our staff members and local communities

As part of our corporate social responsibility and to ensure the best possible outcomes for the people we support, we focus on working locally: with the people who use our services and their families, and with the local communities in which they live. We are conscious of our responsibilities as an ethical organisation and a responsible neighbour in the communities in which we work; it is our aim to work with our partners and stakeholders locally to increase capacity and social impact and to support communities to sustain themselves.

We recruit locally, to ensure that people are supported by staff who know the area intimately and who can truly connect them into their local communities in the way they want – enabling them to exercise their rights as citizens and to positively contribute to society and we train and supervise those staff within a clear development programme enabling them to gain in skills and confidence.

Community Circles is supported by people who are able to contribute a couple of hours a month to facilitate the circle.  We recruit facilitators from a variety of backgrounds, students, businesses, community groups and faith communities, and also from our staff within Alternative Futures Group.

Community Circles brings many benefits; supporting the people we work with to achieve their purpose and develop connections, supporting our social corporate responsibility by working with other members of the community to develop a circle of support, connecting people within their local community that benefits everyone and supporting staff to develop skills and new experiences through the role of the facilitator, knowing that their contributions are making a difference.

Kelly, an Area Manager, facilitates a circle for a man who is living with dementia and his wife.  Here she shares her experience of being a facilitator

The role of facilitator is something that interested me after hearing the benefits a circle can bring to someone’s life. In addition it was my opportunity to give something to the local community where I work. I was matched with the couple whose circle I facilitate. Their circle is made up of some life long friends and their daughter. Once we had identified the purpose of the circle, to return to the dances they enjoy, things really got moving. Once the conversation has started things really began to change for the couple. Although the people in the circle were involved in the couple’s life already it focused the conversation to enable to think about what they would like to achieve and how they were going to do this involving others. The circle meeting also enabled the couple to have a purpose to see their friends. This has further solidified their friendship and offers of help are accepted rather than thinking it’s too much trouble.

The circle has strengthen the support the couple have and creates a focused conversation every 4-6 weeks which enables them to think of different options to explore and support they can access. The couple of hours a month that I give to facilitate enables this conversation to happen, helps me to develop my skills and supports me to make a valued contribution in my local community.

If you want to find out more about Community Circles and how you could get involved, take a look at our new website http://community-circles.co.uk/


Cath Barton

Community Circles Connector

Alternative Futures Group Rochdale

Drive – purpose and motivation in volunteering

A post by David Rinaldi

As a Volunteering Manager and Community Circles Connector, I spend a fair bit of time thinking and planning how to motivate people to volunteer to do socially useful things. But what does a ‘good’ volunteer role look like? Putting aside the question of micro– and short-term-volunteering, how do we recruit the right volunteers, get them to turn up, and crucially, make them want to keep turning up week after week or month after month?

Back in 1997, after their National Survey for Volunteering in the UK, the Institute for Volunteering Research produced a volunteers’ wish-list for volunteering roles, under the acronym ‘Flexivol’, standing for: Flexibility, Legitimacy, Ease of access, eXperience, Incentives, Variety, Organisation and Laughs. It’s interesting stuff – even being gathered from solely young volunteers, it is still useful when considering volunteers of all ages.

More recently, in the best-selling 2011 book and Royal Society of Arts animate, “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates US”, Daniel Pink describes three key factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction at work: autonomy, mastery and purpose.


I read Pink’s work with interest because I’ve often thought that many of the things which make for a good, fulfilling paid role are equally applicable to unpaid roles. If we want good volunteers to keep coming back, we need to provide roles that not only give them the opportunity to make a positive difference to their community or to important social issues, but which are enjoyable or engaging in and of themselves.


Some people do volunteer quite happily to do things like stuffing envelopes or basic administration work. Some people enjoy the tasks, some people are motivated by the cause, for some people it’s a bit of both. But few people would be motivated to volunteer on a regular, ongoing basis to do roles they find dreary or tedious, however worthy the cause. We cannot rely too much on people’s desire to do something ‘good’; if we want them to keep coming back, we must also ensure they are doing something they find satisfying.

Pink reports a multitude of psychological and sociological research findings that demonstrate, as the author puts it, the ‘surprising truth’ that, for any task that involves more than only mechanical skill, but calls for even rudimentary cognitive skill, “a larger reward leads to poorer performance…the best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table, pay them enough that they’re not thinking about the money and they’re thinking about the work”

Once people are not thinking about the money and they’re thinking about the work, Pink says, what gives people personal satisfaction and leads to better performance is autonomy, mastery and purpose. Since by definition volunteers are not ‘thinking about the money’,  it seems to me that we could do a useful quick quality check on volunteering opportunities by considering how much they provide volunteers with autonomy, mastery and purpose. I’d like to spend the rest of this blog exploring how the role of Community Circles Facilitator measures up.

Autonomy: the desire to direct our own lives; engagement not compliance. Community Circles Facilitators are matched with someone who wants to change or improve something in their life. The person at the centre of the circle chooses what they want to change or improve, but the facilitator has a considerable amount of autonomy in terms of how they support the group to meet their goals: for example, which facilitation tools and techniques to use, which questions to ask, when to actively bring a quieter circle member into the discussion, when and how to manage a louder member who might dominate the discussion.

Mastery: the urge to get better and better at something that matters and the satisfaction you gain from doing so. Group facilitation is a skill and a practice, that we can get better and better at over time, as we try different tools and approaches, discover what works and doesn’t work for us and the group we’re working with, and find our own style.

Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves, to look outside of ourselves. Each Community Circle has a clear purpose for the person at its centre. For facilitators, this provides the opportunity to look outside of themselves and focus on how to improve or change things for the person at the centre of the circle and the people that are important to them. This can be incredibly rewarding.

Having just started facilitating one of my own Community circles, I can say that I personally have found the experience hugely fulfilling. It’s also helped me develop skills that are very useful in the rest of my working life. Community Circles are currently recruiting Volunteer Facilitators. If you are an individual, or represent an organisation, and would like to find out more or get involved, please do get in touch.


Community Circles and Making it Real

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The Making it Real statements are a set of statements to enable people check their progress towards personalised, community based support. Developed by Think Local Act Personal, the statements were coproduced and reflect what people who use services and carers want to see and experience. At Community Circles we get together each month to reflect on how we are doing and the progress we are making. This month we spent some time looking at how Community Circles can help deliver the five areas of Making it Real.

  • Information and Advice: Having the information I need when I need it

One of the statements in this section is “I know where to get information about what is going on in my community”

One way to find out what is going on in your community it to ask the people who live there.

A Community Circle involves local people who can share their knowledge and information of not just what is going on, but who are the people to talk to as well. If they don’t know, they can figure out a way to find out.

Local people in Yvonne’s Community Circle used their knowledge and connections to help her find a volunteering job at a café.  Through conversations at her circle meeting, members were able to share ideas and use their own networks to find an opportunity for Yvonne.  Yvonne is now helping out at a local luncheon club and developing relationships with the people who go there.

Read more of Yvonne’s story here.

  • Active and supportive communities: keeping friends, family and place

There are four statements in this section:

  • “I have access to a range of support that helps me to live the life I want and remain a contributing member of my community”
  • “I have a network of people who support me – carers, family, friends, community and if needed paid support staff”
  • “I feel welcomed and included in my local community”
  • “I feel valued for the contribution that I can make to my community”

A Community Circle is a way to activate community support from friends, family and neighbours. They help people feel supported, get involved and make a contribution. May is 88 years old and the purpose of her Community Circle was to ‘get her singing again’. May is now a member of Stockport Community Choir and performs with them as well. She lives in a care home with other people who have dementia.  May sings in the choir, and is also on the tea and coffee rota, making a contribution to how the choir works, and making a contribution. You can read more about May’s circle here.

Tim’s Community Circle has helped him to find a paid job. Tim had a statement at school, and has autism and mental health issues. Through his circle he was supported to have a work experience placement with a printer, and now has a part time job with the same firm.

  • Flexible integrated care and support: my support, my own way

In this section is the statement, “I am in control of planning my care and support”

A Community Circle can help a person or family manage a personal budget, or help design their service with them.

Jennie’s circle helps her mum manage her personal budget. Through the planning that her circle did with her, they designed her service and chose the provider to support her. To read more about Jennie and her story, there is a book available. Now the Community Circle includes the provider manager and together they make sure that Jennie has the right support and is moving towards the actions on her PATH.

The purpose of Colin’s circle is to support him with decision-making.  The circle meetings brings Colin together with the staff that support him to ensure his support is tailored to him and he is fully supported with decisions about his life.

  • Workforce: my support staff

One of the statements is: “I am supported by people who help me to make links in my local community”

A Community Circle can help people be and feel connected in their community, perhaps working alongside staff, like Mary’s Community Circle. Mary’s circle has supported her to reconnect with her faith community.  Mary has gone from having only people in her life that were paid to be with her to having friends that visit from church and people from her parish as part of her circle.

Mary’s blog shares what has been achieved through her Community Circle.

5) Risk enablement: feeling in control and safe

This section includes: “I feel that my community is a safe place to live and local people look out for me and each other” and

“I have systems in place so that I can get help at an early stage to avoid a crisis”. Although we would not call a Community Circle a system, they are a way to keep people out of paid services for as long as possible, and research demonstrates this. They being family and friends together to help avoid crises, like in Alan’s Community Circle. Alan is a carer for his wife, Lynda, who has dementia. His Community Circle brings together family and friends to support him, and to enable him to keep his wife living at home for as long as possible. Through the Community Circle his friends get together each month to reflect on what’s working and not working for Alan and his wife and what they can do that makes a difference.  They set up a ‘casserole club’ to support Alan and his wife have home cooked meals.Alan’s wife Lynda, now also volunteers at the local walking group, supporting her to have a valued role within her community.  Read more about Lynda’s story here.

One of the most important ways for people to be safe is having people looking out for them. The most vulnerable people to abuse, are people without friends and family who are looking out for them, or staff who are committed to the person.  A Community Circle brings together the people who are already involved in their life, like Alan and Lynda’s story and through a Community Circle people may be introduced to more people who will look out for them, like Dawn and the new people she has met through church.

Through her Community Circle, Dawn is now helping at local church’s coffee morning and helping to run the book stall.  Dawn was introduced to the members of the church through a contact of a circle member.  Dawn is really pleased to be meeting new people and have a valued role and the church are appreciative of the contribution she makes.

Using the Warwick and Edinburgh Mental Health and Well Being Scale, Dawn’s well-being has increased from the start of her circle to three months later.

The Making it Real statements are very important as they are what people want, and are therefore critical areas for services to focus on. They also meant that great services have to invest in community, and in ways to ensure that people are connected in their communities. In services there tends to be much more focus on risk, and not enough on community. Surely, the biggest risk – to both health and well-being is loneliness, and having great staff, a personalised service and excellent information is important, but not everything, We need active, supportive communities as well. The second statement here  – Active and supportive communities: keeping friends, family and place – may be the hardest one for services to deliver, but one of the most important to wellbeing (and safety). What do you think?