We’re in week 14 of our Circles Connected Facebook Group and yet, in some ways, it doesn’t seem two minutes since we had a worried conversation about what to do now that our face to face groups had to be put on hold.  COVID-19 meant we had to change the way we work and think of different ways to support people to feel connected and entertained.  That initial worried conversation led to new ideas, thinking about different ways of working and a big learning curve.

I’d like to take you back a few years and think of how the idea of Circles Connected came about…

About ten years ago a few of us got together to think about Circles of Support and how we could make them available for everyone.  Circles of Support have been around for a long time; a way of bringing people together around an individual, having focussed conversations about what the person wants to achieve, thinking together about what’s working well and not working well for the person and what the Circle can do that makes a difference in the persons life.  Although Circles had been around for a long time, they were mostly for people with a learning disability and never really developed at scale.  We wanted to make them available for everyone.

Since our first small pilot project in Stockport, Community Circles has become a registered charity and over the last ten years we have partnered with a variety of organisations, supported living providers, care homes, home care, extra care and churches.

Our model is flexible to adapt to the people we support and the organisations we work with and has developed over the years;  individual circles of support that help a person do more of what matters to them, group circles where first conversations with an individual has ripples to connect other people and supporting organisations to connect wider with their local neighbours and communities.

Over the last couple of years Community Circles has partnered with Wellbeing Teams, small neighbourhood teams who support people to live well at home, and HMR Circle, a membership group for people over fifty to come together around shared interests based in Rochdale, to develop Circle Family.

Circle Family is our local community offer, supported by a connector, to bring people together around shared interests.  There is a monthly programme of events which is shaped by the interests of our members and includes such events as coffee club, knit and natter, mindfulness, meals out, cinema trips, craft sessions, book club and walking groups.  Whatever ideas or interests people have we can help to support.  The groups are a way to keep involved with a favourite hobby or try something new, get together with friends or create opportunities for new connections and relationships.  We are currently developing Circle Family in Ashton-in-Makerfield and Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

Because of the pandemic our face to face groups have had to be put on hold for the time being and that’s where the idea of Circles Connected Facebook Group came from; an opportunity to bring together Ashton Circle, Abingdon Circle and HMR Circle into one virtual space.  Circles Connected started as a way to virtually replicate our face to face groups and has now grown to a variety of posts, events and activities from cocktail making to conversation starters, quiz nights to guitar lessons, virtual tours to photography challenges and everything in between.

We are keen to start our local face to face groups again when we are able to and in the meantime, we are staying in touch with our members.  As we’ve had such a great response to the group we will be keeping the Facebook group going in the future, responding to the views of our members about the content they would like to see.  We are also working with care home colleagues in Oxford supporting virtual entertainment through Circles Connected.

Please continue to share your ideas with us, we look forward to hearing from you…

Cath, Community Circles Connector