Supporting the Social Care Profession

A few thoughts to set the scene

A while ago we had some really good feedback from an external colleague that made the team involved really pleased and rightly so but provoked me to reflect. The message announced that the colleague was leaving their post and said how much they would miss working with us. They went on to say how they thought we were the best ‘care agency’ they work with. As the leader of a small organisation that felt wonderful (best care) and disappointing (agency) at the same time.

With the pandemic there is so much debate about social care at the moment. We’ve done some speaking out but in other places. Now its time to set out in different ways how we try to be the best we can, from values to training, legal structure to size and more. In short its multifaceted, complicated with no single or most important factor and perhaps the worst way to describe what we are is just as ‘an agency’. Its also clear that for social care to be the best it can ‘the system’ needs to seek out and nurture what works. People Matters is the smallest organisation I’ve worked for and I was new to social care when I took up the role having worked in education for 20 years. (The overlaps are bigger than you would think). Perhaps having that external perspective helped me recognise the potential of what we could become, not that we are finished project now by any means.

The organisation as I arrived was values driven, independently minded and very small but wasn’t progressing further. There was lots to do to realise any potential and very little resource for development. I can report that to build well with little resource takes so much time, effort, resourcefulness and resilience. More than any other time in my working life. Small organisations can be like a small boat in a large ocean, circumstances can buffet you but also make you responsive and adaptable giving an exhilarating and rewarding experience. The pandemic could have been brutal to us, so many charities are under threat of closure now, but we have steered our way through and the staff team have willingly turned themselves inside out to support our members. See below for a few short articles about what makes us who we are and as I said there is no single answer or priority.

Tina Turnbull CEO January 2021

Business and Employment Model

As a social enterprise we think social enterprises are the best way to promote inclusive growth.  We are located in Holbeck an area of Leeds where its residents value where they live but also face challenges in economic development and employment opportunities. We try our best in difficult circumstances to be a good employer, striving to offer salaried posts in a sector where zero hours and unreliable work are endemic. Although we can’t make the commitment to be a full living wage employer we do our best to stay as close to this as possible. We offer training, develop our team and grow strength/offer opportunities internally wherever we can. This means since 2013 we have approximately trebled in size and we now employ about 50 staff.

How have we done this? By being both member led and a good employer, success has followed on. Support from Leeds City Council our main trading funder has also been invaluable.

Why have we grown? There is much talk about social care due to the pandemic, we think that getting a balance between being small enough to be close to our community and big enough to be strong is best. We have always tried to give back and it and has helped our CEO to become one of 12 inclusive growth ambassadors in Leeds and to act as a voice for small employers and education.

A bit on voice, community and size

During the pandemic we decided it was time to speak out about the experience of working in social care in Leeds and wrote the article ‘After the Clapping‘ in our local paper South Leeds Life. Writing this article made us consider further what it means to be in social care. As one of our trustees is from Skills for Care we decided it was important to contribute some more and wrote a series of three blogs which have now been published on their website.

Life Under the ‘Clapping for Carers’ Radar – Part One

Life Under the ‘Clapping for Carers’ Radar – Part Two

Life Under the ‘Clapping for Carers’ Radar – Part Three

We are a member led organisation, so everyone who uses us has a voice about what we do and how we work. In social care speak its ‘being person centred’ whilst when we talk with commissioners it can be termed as ‘participant feedback’. For us it is about community and responding to member need. We think that this gets harder the more you grow but actively listening and then doing is the key.

We also found out from Skills for Care that having 50 staff puts us into being a larger social care organisation, 90% are smaller than us. In contrast the very biggest social care organisations are often in the private sector, can be owned by private equity firms and the press queries whether the debt they have may be holding what they do back. Some larger social care organisations are bigger charities and operate regionally or nationally. There are merits in this but we do like being smaller and local, it makes us focus on our members here in Leeds. Challenges are always aplenty, including getting the balance right between financial resource for investment in service in the here and now and investment for future strength. In the long term we take the approach of using our charitable status here to seek grants to offer opportunities to our members which traded and statutory funding can’t support. During the pandemic the support from these funders such as the National Lottery Community Fund, Leeds Community Foundation and now the Henry Smith Charitable Foundation has been essential in adapting how we work so we can best support our members in difficult times.

Our staff and employment in social care

To recruit new staff and support people into discover and/or move into the social care profession we work with lots of partners. This includes the Leeds City Council Step into Care programme but also different education organisations, from Notre Dame 6th form college to Leeds Trinity University for work experience. We have offered placements to trainee GPs from Leeds University to working internationally offering placements to students from Finland. One student from Finland even came back to work for us after they graduated in social work and it looks like a second student is going to do the same. We know that working at People Matters is great experience as our staff turnover is half the average figure reported by Skills for Care. For more information on what it is like to work in social care and particularly for People Matters have a look on our vacancies page at the Employment Information Pack

In a service organisation you are only as good as your people but telling your story is important too

At People Matters for many years now we have invested in our staff so we are the best organisation we can be for our members. Here is an extract from our annual report in 2016 showing that we have had an apprenticeship scheme and supported staff to become qualified for several years. At the moment in 2021 we have apprentices studying at level 2, 3, 5 and 7. Our annual report is part of us having a wide membership legal structure and being member led, This is where you can find our our most recent annual report   Every year we celebrate the achievements of our staff as well as our members. The annual ‘Trustees Award’ goes to the member of staff who has made a particular contribution to the organisation and we also have a ‘Support Worker of the Year Award’. The most recent Trustees’ award went to Leah Cork who has set up and grown our second support service. Support worker of the year this year is Shelly Kaye for being utterly reliable, fantastic and dependable during the pandemic where our staff carried on delivering support both virtually and face to face where needed throughout.

No (wo)man (or organisation) is an island or ‘how we do things around here’

Contributing to partnership working is an ongoing goal. We use some of our funding to work across Leeds delivering training for groups of people in different organisations. Some staff work with third sector partners delivering supported living to help offer further support to our members there who have particular needs and interests. Our leadership team get involved in themed cross city working groups. Back in 2015 we became Tenfold Member of the Year (and we were social enterprise of the year for Yorks and Humber in 2018). The award in 2015 was an incredible privilege in recognising the strides forward we had made as a small organisation with only about half the staff we have now but the same values of course.

Early on we decided that putting values at the heart of what we do would help set who we are as an organisation. We ended up with a set that are distinctive because our staff developed them, have a look ‘Our Values‘ Over the years we spent time holding ‘Investors in People’ and becoming CQC registered. At the moment we are inspected as good. More recently we gained both Disability Confident Leader status from DWP and the Matrix Standard for Information, Advice and Guidance. Both awards looked at feedback from our staff and our Matrix assessor commented on how our staff were our strength. After being shortlisted in the 2020 Leeds Cares awards as the most inclusive care organisation we are considering if our next goal should be becoming an ‘Investor in Diversity’

A good heart is only the start

As a society we seem to spend a lot of effort on supporting new starts whether that is community groups or entrepreneurs. Founders have an extreme challenge building completely new organisations but determined tiny newness can only carry an organisation so far. There is a lot written on ‘founder’s syndrome’ and letting go too. Not being one of those I focus on building across different purposes instead even if that sometimes feels more invisible. At People Matters values are a fundamental pillar but another are the systems we have developed, they go hand in hand and regulated social care needs so many. In the end good hearted chaos via unsupported growth is a turn off and building a resilient and effective organisation takes good team working. Organisational policies and procedures are as dry to write as they are to read but having them and having them where they can be accessed and understood helps build our team. Whether it’s a safeguarding policy, an employee handbook, a telephone system that you can still use whilst home working in a pandemic, a cloud based intranet so staff can access information remotely or a person centred review process for support they all and many more help make an organisation hum rather than judder along. Whether you call it overheads or core costs its needed and all this capacity takes resource to build of course. That’s why its important for sufficient sustained capacity within the social care system to build strong small organisations not just establish tiny new ones.

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