Juicing, dancing and sewing: how micro-providers are adding colour to personalisation

Micro-enterprises are helping diversify the social care market by offering an alternative to domiciliary or day care. Max Daly profiles three such providers whose development has been supported by social enterprise Community Catalysts.

Micro-enterprise DanceSyndrome performed for Comic Relief last year

Pulp Friction

Pulp Friction was inspired by an experience Jessie Carter and her mum Jill had in 2008 when they came face to face with a peddle-powered smoothie bar at a local festival near their home in Nottinghamshire.

 

What is a micro-enterprise?

Micro-enterprises typically employ no more than five people and provide a range of health, social care, supported housing or leisure services, often to people with personal budgets.

They often employ people who use services and volunteers. However, they can fall under the radar of council commissioners and face regulatory and other barriers to being used by people on personal budgets.

Source: Community Catalysts

 

Jessie, aged 16 at the time, had wanted a part-time job in a restaurant or café like many of her friends, but her learning disabilities meant it was not so easy. However, the static smoothie bike, which can blend a smoothie in under a minute via peddle power, seemed to offer a solution to this problem.

A year later they successfully applied to the Youth Opportunity Fund for £1,800 to buy a smoothie bike for themselves – and the Pulp Friction Smoothie Bar Project was born. A community interest company, Pulp Friction now works with young adults aged 16-24 with learning disabilities to develop independence, work readiness and social skills by providing opportunities and individual support to run their six bikes at different community events around the country. Pulp Friction now has three paid workers and a team of non-disabled volunteers who do everything from chop fruit to sort out health and safety.

“Pulp Friction is a bespoke service, very much about raising awareness, and raising the profile of disabled people in the community,” says Jill Carter. “Every time people buy a smoothie from us they are interacting with someone with learning difficulties, and that is really what Pulp Fiction is all about – people-connecting.”

She says that micro-providers like Pulp Friction are sometimes ignored because it is easier for social services to commission traditional options, such as day care services. But social services should be thinking outside the box, says Rebecca Stanley, who is employed by Community Catalysts to develop micro-enterprises with Nottinghamshire Council and supported the Carters to get Pulp Friction up and running. 

“Having been shaped around the needs and wants of the people who use the service, Pulp Friction offers something different,” says Stanley. “It enables people to use their own skills and ideas to add to the service – which further helps it’s development,” says Stanley. “Jill is always thinking ahead and works collaboratively with other local people and providers to see what further opportunities there are out there for people who use services.”

DanceSyndrome 

DanceSyndrome uses dance as a vehicle for changing the lives of people with learning disabilities. The Manchester-based dance company was inspired by founder and director, Jen Blackwell, an aspiring community dance leader with Down’s syndrome.

Blackwell had always had a passion for dance, but found it hard to find suitable training and performance opportunities. So, she decided to form her own company in 2009.

With a mix of disabled ‘dance leaders’ and non-disabled trained ‘dance artists, it is not only disability-led, but seeks to train and employ dancers with learning disabilities to deliver dance workshops and performances.

In March, DanceSyndrome performed a version of one of the most popular routines at its workshops, the famous Dirty Dancing song ‘Time of My Life’, for Comic Relief on the BBC’s One Show, with comedian Miranda Hart.

“It’s the kind of tune no-one can sit down to, you just have to dance and its always a popular routine whether we are teaching teenagers or people in their 50s,” says managing director Karen Hobson. 

Maidie Create

Fashion designer Harsharan Landa runs Maidie Create, a social enterprise that runs sewing courses for vulnerable children and adults in London. She set up the micro-provider in 2012 after being awarded an innovation grant by Barking and Dagenham council.

Named after Landa’s French grandmother, whose name means ‘help me’, Maidie Create organises sewing classes for people who use drug and alcohol services, refugees, women affected by domestic violence and people with autistic spectrum disorders. Landa now hopes to adapt the model and deliver the courses to people with learning disabilities, other disabled people and older people with personal budgets.

The six-week sewing courses, where participants make anything from handbags and make-up bags to cushion covers and clothing, aim to give people new skills and confidence to work towards independence and better outcomes. Maidie Create, which helped 74 people last year, hopes to provide volunteering and employment opportunities for participants who want to develop their skills further and support their peers.

“By teaching them transferrable sewing and fashion skills, it helps give them confidence,” says Landa. “My aim is to be a listening ear as well as helping them back onto the road of their future. Being a micro-provider has allowed me to do this.”

One story she mentions is of a woman with mental health problems who had become estranged from her daughter. At first this woman came with her carer but soon developed the confidence to come to class on her own. The sewing inspired her to bring in some fabric that had been given to her by her late mother and make two bags, one for her and one for her daughter. The gift, says Landa, reunited mother and daughter after an absence of many years.

More on Community Catalysts

Community Catalysts was set up in 2010 by small providers’ umbrella organisation Shared Lives Plus to stimulate the development of micro-providers in order to increase choice for personal budget holders, by working with commissioners and micro-entrepreneurs.

Earlier this month, it was made one of three winners of the first EU Social Innovation Competition, which is designed to identify innovative ways of creating employment and received over 600 entries. Community Catalysts’ winning proposal was to establish a managed online network of business mentors to support micro-entrepreneurs set up sustainable and affordable health and social care services.

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The social workers’ guide to micro-providers in social care

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