In November 2017 Andrea Sutcliffe spoke at the Towards Outstanding conference in Wigan and shared some key thoughts about the things that she considers to be the elements that enable a care home to be considered as outstanding. It made me think about how Community Circles supports these ideas and how our work with care homes could help deliver outstanding services.

The key points that Andrea made were:

  • People at the centre – have a life not a service
  • Leadership – beyond the manager – embed values that inspire staff
  • Transparent, open culture
  • Strong links with the local community
  • Creative and innovative
  • A can do and will do attitude that leads to staff dedication
  • Safe care promoted
  • Always looking to improve
  • Focus on people, not the regulator

I want to explore in each on in turn, and how Community Circles supports this.

People at the centre – have a life, not a service.

I have so often heard care homes referred to as ‘God’s waiting room’ or ‘the stairway to heaven’, and this reflects the idea that if people find themselves in the position of needing a care home that their life is somehow over and it is just about basic care needs. But does it really have to be like that? There is a massive diversity of people living in care homes – a wide age range form people in their fifties, to people over 100 years old! People who have been singers, actors, worked in a bank, a pub, as a nurse, a teacher, the army….so much diversity! We can think about people’s history and learn about what really matters to them and what has made up their life and their experiences. What it is that makes them, them. With Community Circles we do just this, and then think about which things are important that a person would like to have more of in their life. This is where the purpose of someone’s circle come from – we don’t just make it up as we go along – we learn from each person. By people being engaged with things that matter to them, they continue to have a life and not just to be at the mercy of receiving the basic care; which is obviously essential; but does not give someone a meaningful life.

Leadership beyond the manager – embed values that inspire staff

Being a manager is not about doing everything yourself. A good manager is a leader – who in turn nurtures and supports the skills in others and helps them to become leaders too. If we want our care homes to fully embrace a person centred culture then it needs to be present at every level of the organisation. We know that staff deliver better person centred care to those people they are supporting, if in turn they are supported in their work in a person centred way. The values of an organisation need to be in everything we do – and this will inspire people to take on these values in throughout their work too. Our approach at Community Circles is starting with the belief that people can achieve what they want to achieve. We have a culture that enables us to bring all our skills and connections to our work and encourage other people to also do that. We work with managers of care homes, but also look to where else the leadership is within the home and who can champion Community Circles within that environment.

Transparent / open culture

It is so important to have an open and honest culture to enable growth and development. We can learn as much from what has not worked well as we can from the things that have worked well. When we are honest about what has not worked, we can work on how to make things better; and when we take time to look at what has worked, we can make sure we celebrate this and do more of it! We have regular meetings with the care homes to reflect on how things are going and how we can learn from this for the next steps.

Strong links with the local community

This is absolutely crucial for the success of a community circles and to keep them sustainable. There can be a temptation to see that people in a care home have got all of the friendship they need with other residents and the activities within the care home. And from the community’s point of view, it can be easy to see a care home as a closed place where you only go through the door if you are visiting someone or you work there. What will it take to open the doors of a care home and encourage that connection between the inside and outside worlds! We are currently working with Wigan Council and the care homes to look at how we can develop these links and how care homes can be seen for the valuable community asset that they are. To think about how we can support people to get out of the care home and link with people and groups in the local community, and how we can encourage local people and groups to come inside the care homes – maybe run a local group there, make use of the space, engage with people living there. The essence of Community Circles is to think about what matters to people, and then to identify ways in which people can grow their connections with others around this purpose and have more people in their life.

Creative and innovative

It is great to try new things and to get creative in the way we do things. It is important that this is supported by the previous points of having an open culture with strong values embedded within it. We need to reassure people that it is good to be creative, and that of things don’t work the way we thought they would, we can earn from that. Community Circles help bring people together to share creative ideas and to make them happen. The work itself is funded by the Innovation Fund as it is a different way for the care homes to work and support people to have a good life.

A can do and will do attitude that leads to staff dedication

We know the old saying ‘do as I say, not as I do’ and to be honest, it is hardly inspiring! We need to encourage each other and lead by example – live the values we want to be. A more helpful quote comes from Lao Tzu:

‘Watch your thoughts, they become your words.

Watch your words, they become your actions.

Watch your actions, they become your habits.

Watch your habits, they become your character.’

Safe care promoted

Hopefully this goes without saying! There are times when we are reminded that people who have been isolated in institutions are at greater risk of not receiving safe care. By supporting people to have more people and contacts in their life, this helps them to be less vulnerable to unsafe care because there are people who can advocate in situations where things may not be up to scratch.

 Always looking to improve

Looking to improve does not mean that what you’re doing currently is bad, it means using the good things as a firm foundation and looking where things can be developed and improved even more. This is about networking with peers and linking in with work where we can learn from others. Over the five years since Community Circles was established as a model of growing circles, we have constantly strived to improve the way we do things. We can only do this through partnership working, having an open culture and by growing great leadership in others.

Focus on the person, not the regulator

What is our motivation? Seeing how Community Circles help people to have a more meaningful life, learn new things and develop friendships. We want to se this happen across a range of different services as well as for individuals who need some support in the form of a circle. If we bring all of these points together and keep people at the centre, this should automatically meet the requirements of the moderator. The risk of focussing on the moderator requirements is that things become a tick box exercise and we miss what the obvious.


‘We are what we repeatedly do.

Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.’



Helen Smith

Community Circles Connector